More questions about Aspen hydro plant

Dear Editor:

I agree with much of what Randy Udall and Auden Schendler say in their recent column about climate change and the need for action (“Aspen should take the lead on clean hydropower,” March 1, The Aspen Times). However, the proposed Aspen Castle Creek Hydro project falls short.

Calling this a “run of the river” project is misleading. Run of the river simply means using the rivers’ natural flow and gradient. It sounds benign, but it isn’t. Glen Canyon is a “run of the river” operation. Castle Creek and Glen Canyon differ only in scale. Both streams, like the Colorado River below Glen Canyon, will suffer from altered flows. For Maroon Creek the “natural flow” will never return. “Run of the river” doesn’t mean there won’t be damage.

Second, this project has hardly been “studied nigh unto exhaustion.” It has hardly been studied at all, compared to comparable projects requiring federal permitting. Many people, including a panel of independent experts, have concluded that much more work needs to be done in order to understand the real impacts of this project. Dr. Miller’s study was a good start, but hardly adequate to determine how the project should be operated to maintain truly robust stream health. Monitoring is fine, but preventing damage is key. Neither Castle Creek nor Maroon Creek and its treasured wetlands can survive very long with just a minimum flow.

Saying there “is no science to show the stream will be damaged” is not exactly true, except in the sense that no adequate studies to determine robust stream health for Castle and Maroon Creeks have been done. Plenty of research exists on the impacts from altered flow regimes to streams like this.

Perhaps the only ones who think this project has been studied enough are those who don’t want to look any deeper. Is it the cost of additional studies that worry, or what they may reveal?

I agree with Randy and Auden about sacrifice, but not quite as they describe it. Solving one problem by creating another doesn’t achieve anything. Sacrificing two local streams in the name of the “greater good” is a Faustian Bargain at best. Where will it end? We’ve killed the Colorado as a river. Now we’re going after the smaller tributaries.

The real “sacrifice” must come from us, not from more damage to an environment that has sacrificed so much already. This is a moral question as much as it is one of policy. Do we maintain our increasingly rapacious appetite for energy and resources by degrading more and more of our physical environment? wThat will do nothing for the “greater good” in the long run.

Hydropower can be a part of the solution, but it must be done differently than it has been. That would truly be “embracing a new kind of environmentalism.” Aspen could be a real leader in this, but has chosen not to. It’s “back to the future” all right, with business as usual. Only now it’s covered with a coat of “greenwash.”

Ken Neubecker