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Hydro project is environmentally responsible

Dear Editor:

A recent letter to the editor raised several questions regarding the Castle Creek Hydroelectric Project. I am writing to respond to those questions.

In the near future we plan to provide additional information about this important and environmentally responsible project. What Aspenites gained in approving this project on the 2007 ballot is the annual production of 5.5 million kilowatt-hours of environmentally responsible electricity. That power production will prevent more than 5,000 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere every year. This represents more than 25 percent of the remaining carbon emissions resulting from power generation for Aspen’s electric utility.

The production of clean, renewable energy at the Castle Creek Hydroelectric Project will depend on the use of water drawn from Castle Creek. There is simply no way around this basic fact. However, the city is doing its best to limit the impact on Castle Creek. The only change the hydroelectric project will make in the city’s water use regime is that a portion of the water diverted by the city will return to the creek at a point approximately three-fourths of a mile downstream of the present point of return, which is below Thomas Reservoir. The new point of return will be at the Castle Creek Bridge.

From the beginning of the Castle Creek Hydroelectric Project, the city of Aspen has been aware of the critical importance of maintaining a viable, healthy stream in Castle Creek. The Colorado Water Conservation Board’s (CWCB) decreed instream flow right for Castle Creek is 12 cubic feet per second (cfs), and is decreed for the purpose of protecting the natural environment.

This is a fairly junior water right. To help assure that Castle Creek actually receives this instream flow, which applies to all of Castle Creek, the city has already voluntarily committed to operate its own, more senior, water rights in a way that will support the 12 cfs instream flow. The city currently honors this commitment, and the proposed Castle Creek Hydroelectric Project will not alter this commitment. This means it is possible that, under certain conditions, the flow in Castle Creek upstream of the hydroplant will be 12 cfs. Historical low stream flow conditions in Castle Creek (generally reaching the lowest values in late winter) have averaged in the range of 20 cfs. When the hydroplant is operating in times of low flow in Castle Creek, flows in the reach of the creek between the hydroplant intake and the plant may be reduced to 12 cfs instead (the value established by the CWCB as necessary to protect the natural environment).

The city continues to welcome interested citizens as part of its decision-making process throughout its development of the Castle Creek Hydroelectric Project, just as it has done to date. The city anticipates that a web link will be set up later this spring, and that public meetings on this project will continue, in addition to the three meetings which have already been held. To be added to the list of people who will receive notices as this project moves forward, contact John Hines, renewable energy utility manager, at 429-1999.

Phil Overeynder

City of Aspen utilities and environmental initiatives director


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