Mayor misleads about hydroelectric
October 6, 2012
Mayor Ireland says he is a committed environmentalist. So am I. I’ve been involved with water and environmental issues in Colorado for 20 years. The Castle Creek hydro project is about the environment, but it has two conflicting parts: global and local.
Globally, will the hydroplant save the polar ice caps and put the brakes on global warming? I wish that were true. Unfortunately, the Castle Creek hydroplant is tiny despite the mayor’s lump of coal the size of City Hall. That amount of coal rumbles through Glenwood Springs on trains several times a day.
On a global scale, the Castle Creek hydro plant is only a token environmental gesture.
On a local scale, the environmental footprint could be substantial. The mayor correctly says the water used for hydropower is “nonconsumptive” and will return to the streams. But he deliberately misleads when he says that consumptive water “is not returned to the stream.”
Most of the consumptive water used for ponds and farms does, in fact, return to the streams. It’s called “return flows.” And nobody can “take” the city’s nonconsumptive water right, as the mayor claims. Nobody.
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The mayor needs to stick to the truth and learn how water works in Colorado. If it’s such a harmless project, why does he have to resort to deceit, distraction and deception? At this point, I’m forced to question the mayor’s environmental commitment.
The city is the biggest user of water from Castle and Maroon creeks. More than 90 percent of the water running through Aspen’s pipes “returns” into the Roaring Fork River many miles below the diversions on Castle and Maroon creeks.
What matters is where the water returns and what happens to the dewatered stream in between. The water removed from Castle Creek will not “return” to the stream for nearly 21⁄2 miles. The water from Maroon Creek for the hydroplant will never “return” to Maroon Creek. Combined, 61⁄2 miles of stream will be seriously dewatered.
The city has pledged to meet the minimum in-stream flows, but minimum flows aren’t enough. Meeting the bare-bones minimum sounds good, but it condemns the streams to a permanent drought condition. The mayor’s claim of only taking 13 percent annually is another deceptive statistical trick. The reality is that the streams will lose 40 to 60 percent of their base flows most of the year. That’s a fact from the city’s own data.
Castle and Maroon creeks are at the limits of what can be diverted without causing harm. The hydroplant will significantly increase the diversions from these streams. And hydro won’t provide much energy in winter, when stream flow is lowest and Aspen’s energy demand is highest.
Aspen has a choice. It can make a feel-good gesture at the expense of two local streams or it can make responsible renewable-energy choices that protect the streams. Aspen, it’s your call.