Hydro solutions will create more problems
October 2, 2012
They tell us to act local, but if we act too local, they call us NIMBYs. It is true that those of us who live along Castle and Maroon creeks are the most vocal against the hydro project, but that is not because we are worried that our precious property values might go down. We consider these our permanent homes, and if a devaluation lowered our annual taxes, we might even cheer. We are so strongly against the hydro because over the years, the decades, we have bonded with the miracle that is a vibrant riparian system.
There are many reasons to oppose the hydro project, from good-money-after-bad economics to a wobbly calculation of how much coal would remain unburned, so I will focus on an aspect that has received less attention. We tend to think of the creeks as only chutes for running water, and to think of their health in terms of the fish population.
Because of the cobbles that line them, Castle and Maroon are what is known as gravel-bed river systems. They look permanently in place, but in fact over the centuries, the eons, they have wandered radically, leaving a permeable layer of underground stones to each side in their wake. During the force of spring runoff, the heightened pressure drives stream water into the hidden porous layer, which waters the vegetation of the riverbanks and beyond, to sustain Aspen’s densest vegetation.
When the stream level subsides, water drains back from the porous layer to replenish the flow. Riparian corridors comprise only 2 percent of the area’s land-mass but they nurture 90 percent of the wildlife population. To draw down the streams during high runoff is to dry out the greater ecosystem they maintain; to keep trees from replacing themselves; to place dense, interconnected life in jeopardy.
As others have noted, the hydro project would generate its peak energy in spring, when Aspen is least populated, rather than in winter, when water at its lowest is needed for snow-making and visitor population, and in the post-runoff summer, Aspen’s other high season. As a project, its timing is off.
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It is indeed urgent to get off coal, but starving an ecosystem in the name of clean energy is only robbing Peter to pay Paul. There are non-carbon solutions without collateral damage, but to get to them we need to vote “no” on the hydro and get it out of the way first. With a clean slate we can plan a clean future.