Hydro the right thing to do | AspenTimes.com

Hydro the right thing to do

Dear Editor:

I consider myself an environmentalist, the kind of environmentalist who grew up with a stream running through my backyard where I caught (and released!) many a frog and minnow.

I am the kind of environmentalist who chose the beach and redwoods of Santa Cruz, Calif., for my Bachelor of Arts in environmental studies. I am the kind of environmentalist who moved to Aspen on an internship as a naturalist with Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and stayed for the beauty that surrounds us. And I am the kind of environmentalist who focused my master of public administration on renewable energy because I believe that climate change is the single biggest threat to the planet – including the animals and plants we love so dearly.

As such, I am writing to you today in support of the Castle Creek hydropower project. Although I work for the city’s Canary Initiative, I write this as a caring citizen of this community.

Opponents of the project have released ads asking why we would harm a stream for “only” an 8 percent gain in renewable energy, and when I first learned of the project, I had similar concerns.

However, that 8 percent needs to be put into perspective. That 8 percent increases our municipal utility’s renewable resources to 83 percent of our total energy supply, nearing the goal of a fully 100 percent renewable utility. That 8 percent, in conjunction with energy-efficiency measures, lowers the greenhouse-gas emissions of our downtown core, bringing us closer to our goal of a 30 percent reduction over the 2004 baseline by 2020 – just eight short years away. That 8 percent makes us an environmental leader among cities all over the country. And that 8 percent will feed directly into our electric grid, providing power for an emergency shelter should we be cut off from down valley power by a storm or worse.

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But what of the streams? I don’t want to harm a stream. I asked the gravel-bed stream scientist who spoke at ACES at Friends of Rivers and Renewables’ invitation for his thoughts. He said he’s never studied ours, but from his understanding they are far from the pristine river of his focus. And here is the reality: These are not virgin streams. Castle and Maroon creeks have seen mining, historic hydroelectric, farming, ranching, municipal water supply diversions, private diversions, channelization, manicured landscapes and exotic, imported flora.

We have drained the wetlands and we have rebuilt the wetlands. And yet, in consideration of these streams, the city has created the “slow start” approach, entered into an unprecedented memorandum of understanding with the Department of Parks and Wildlife, including stream monitoring and adaptive management, and introduced the concept of a board of experts to protect them.

Is there some give and take here? As with most important decisions, yes. Is the risk worth the reward? Again, I say, wholeheartedly, yes. I believe in the measures that the city is taking to safeguard the streams. I believe in the value of clean, renewable energy in the form of hydro. And I believe the two can coexist.

Elyse A. Hottel

Basalt