City of Aspen agrees to no dams in designated wilderness area
The city of Aspen has reached an agreement with five opposing parties in water court over the municipal government’s plans to reserve the right to build dams on Maroon and Castle creeks.
Two of the opposers, Wilderness Workshop and Western Resource Advocates, announced the settlement Thursday evening.
Will Roush, conservation director at Wilderness Workshop, commended the city for finding another way to store its water other than in a designated wilderness area.
“It’s a big deal. … Everybody came to a consensus that these were not the right places for dams,” he said.
Roush’s organization, along with nine other parties, sued the city after it applied to the state to extend existing conditional water rights for the two potential reservoirs. The city first applied for those rights in 1965.
Since 2016, city officials have maintained that adequate water storage is needed in anticipation of climate change impacts like drought, fire and changes in runoff.
“City Councils over the decades have worked to preserve Aspen water customers’ water supply, including storage options now and into the future,” Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron said in a statement. “We are pleased that we could achieve a solution with Wilderness Workshop and Western Resource Advocates, and hopefully all the parties invested in a mutually successful outcome, that protects pristine areas of wilderness while still prioritizing Aspen’s water needs for the coming decades.”
In 2017, the city announced its intention to move the conditional storage rights out of both valleys. It has been in negotiations with the opposing entities since then.
Stipulations with the five parties — which Aspen City Council is set to approve Tuesday — would result in the government relocating its water storage rights to six other potential locations in the Roaring Fork Valley.
The locations include the existing gravel pit in Woody Creek on land the city recently purchased for water storage next to the gravel pit, on the city’s golf course, on land near the Burlingame housing development and on the Cozy Point Open Space at the bottom of Brush Creek Road.
The city also is set to settle with Double R Creek Ltd. and Asp Properties, LLC, whose residential properties would flood as a result of the dams.
Pitkin County also joined in the fight, and an agreement has been reached there, as well.
Roush said the city has been good to work with.
“It has taken some time but we’ve come to a joint understanding and the city deserves just as much credit as we do for protecting these valleys,” he said. “All the heavy lifting will be done when the council approves this.”
Margaret Medellin, the city’s utilities portfolio manager, told The Aspen Times earlier this month that she hoped to have stipulations from all of the parties in front of council but would keep negotiating if not.
Outstanding areas of agreement among some of the opposing parties and the city revolve around assurances that the city won’t try and move its conditional rights, fail in its attempt, and then return to seeking to maintain its conditional rights in the Castle and Maroon valleys.
The other parties in the two cases include two property owners in Maroon Creek, Larsen Family LP and Roaring Fork Land and Cattle Co., the U.S. Forest Service, American Rivers and Trout Unlimited.
Roush said he has spoken to representatives of some of those parties and there are no substantial differences in the stipulations. He said he expects those agreements to be signed off on, but in the meantime there is no time like the present to advance his organization’s goal to keep water storage out of the valleys.
“We had come to an agreement with the city so it made sense to sign it,” Roush said.
Still, for the deal to be completely final, all of the parties in the case need to settle.
In the agreements, it’s stipulated that the city could retain the right to store no more than 8,500 acre-feet in the alternative locations, according to a memo to council in advance of its Tuesday regular meeting.
That’s down from a combined total of 13,629 acre-feet originally proposed in the Castle and Maroon creeks. That would have required a 170-foot-tall dam 2 miles below Ashcroft and a 155-foot-tall dam located below the confluence of East and West Maroon creeks on U.S. Forest Service land.
“It’s a great day for Castle and Maroon creek valleys, and that those streams will remain free-flowing,” Roush said.
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If you are a property owner in Aspen and are on the city’s utility grid, expect a replacement of your water or electricity meter next month.