Aspen prepares for snow polo under drought conditions
City officials are preparing in advance for drought conditions to continue this winter and will be taking a wait-and-see approach on whether the municipality can provide water for snowmaking to ensure snow polo at Rio Grande Park in December.
The city is under Stage II water restrictions until spring, which puts limits on outdoor irrigation. Aspen City Council passed the unprecedented restrictions in August as a response to drought conditions in the region.
And while using the estimated 350,000 gallons from Maroon and Castle creeks to provide an acre-foot of snow with a 12-inch base at Rio Grande is allowed under the restrictions, the city has put into place conditions in order for that to happen.
“The challenge today is our ability to monitor those conditions (is) a month off,” said Dave Hornbacher, director of utilities for the city.
After more than an hourlong discussion, council agreed Tuesday in a work session that snowmaking can occur only if there is enough water in the city’s system at the time.
That means there must be a minimum in-stream flow of 14 cubic feet per second (cfs) on Maroon Creek and 13 cfs on Castle Creek. As of Tuesday, Maroon is running at 20 cfs and Castle is at 23 cfs, according to Tyler Christoff, the city’s deputy director of utilities.
Conditions also include the city’s ability to meet Aspen’s existing domestic use, which is between 5 and 6.5 cfs daily, Christoff said.
The city also will have to fulfill all of its existing water contracts, which includes selling water to the Aspen Skiing Co. for snowmaking.
Councilmen Ward Hauenstein and Bert Myrin expressed hesitation in allowing snowmaking due to the hypocrisy of asking citizens to restrict their water use while the government would not be.
Myrin was against it entirely, citing a note posted at the Aspen Recreation Center that asks people to conserve water by taking a zero- to five-minute shower.
“I can’t support people not showering in exchange for this event,” he said, adding drought conditions are worsening. “I can’t get there based on what’s going with the U.S. drought monitor.”
However, Myrin was in the minority, although other council members agreed optics could become an issue.
The city would monitor snowmaking operations to make sure water doesn’t puddle or run off the park into the streets, which would be a violation of the Stage II restrictions.
For the past five years, Marc Ganzi, along with his wife Melissa, of the Aspen Valley Snow Polo Club, have contracted with Skico to make snow for the event because there hasn’t been enough of it.
Per the city’s contract with the Ganzis, they must provide a certain amount of snow to protect the turf.
Ganzi told council on Tuesday that he appreciates the city’s support in allowing him to use the park, and boasted how much business the resort benefits from in a week leading up to the holidays that isn’t that busy.
“This is an important part of promoting this town,” he said, adding about 500 people come to town for three or four days to watch or participate in the event. Attendance last year was 1,200 people, Ganzi added.
Councilman Adam Frisch said the issue is balancing conservation and economics, but he trusts city staff can make the right call when it comes time.
This year, the event, called the USPA Piaget World Snow Polo Championship, will be held Dec. 19 to 20. Proceeds will benefit the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation.
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