Is anyone stealing the city’s water? |

Is anyone stealing the city’s water?

Jeremy Heiman

The city of Aspen has directed an engineering firm to determine whether too much water is being diverted from the Roaring Fork River and Hunter Creek.

Enartech, a Glenwood Springs engineering firm with expertise in hydrology, will gauge the flow of Hunter Creek to determine whether water rights owned by Aspen are being honored. The company will also check amounts being diverted over the Continental Divide from both Hunter Creek and the Roaring Fork River, to make sure agreements are being observed. Enartech often does contract work for the city.

“To me, this is just an exercise to see that things are working the way they should,” said Phil Overeynder, water department director for the city. “We’re not pointing any fingers.”

Enartech will measure the flow of Hunter Creek to make certain that the stream is flowing at least 15 cubic feet per second, the amount of a water right owned by the city, Overeynder said. Unlike the Roaring Fork and other nearby rivers, Hunter Creek has no permanent device to measure its flow. But the creek appears to be low, Overeynder said.

“We believe that the stream’s being stressed pretty good, by a combination of weather and upstream diversions,” he said.

A federal water project called the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project diverts water from Hunter Creek, as well as the Fryingpan, into the Arkansas River across the divide, from which it is delivered to the cities of Aurora and Colorado Springs, among others.

The agreement that governs the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project, Overeynder said, indicates that diversion structures must be closed off as soon as in-stream water rights are threatened. Other water rights on Hunter Creek complicate the situation, he said.

Through an agreement with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Aspen leaves its water in the creek for the health of fish and the rest of the aquatic environment. The CWCB is the only agency that can hold in-stream water rights, where the water is left in the stream. Under Colorado water law, water must be taken out of a stream to maintain a water right, unless it is done through the CWCB.

Overeynder said he thinks the flow in Hunter Creek may now be down around 15 cfs. “We think it’s close to that number. It’s low enough that we think it needs to be looked at,” he said.

Enartech will also try to determine whether too much water is being diverted from the upper Roaring Fork, Overeynder said. Aspen has water rights in the Roaring Fork, but there is no agreement with CWCB to protect those.

The engineering firm will discuss the matter with officials of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which diverts water from tributaries of the upper Roaring Fork, to make certain everything is being done in accordance with Colorado water law.

The Fry-Ark agreement, Overeynder said, stipulates that the Twin Lakes administration must provide the Roaring Fork River with 3,000 acre-feet of water to make up for water diverted via the Fry-Ark project.

Enartech will probably have measurements from Hunter Creek by early next week, Overeynder said.

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