Pitkin County mulls opposition to water rights on Crystal River
July 26, 2011
ASPEN – A plan for undeveloped water rights on the Crystal River may not pass muster with Pitkin County.
County commissioners are scheduled to act Wednesday on a resolution opposing a package of water rights for a project that, although it has been scaled back (a reservoir that would put Redstone under water is no longer envisioned), is still of concern.
“The scope of the conditional rights in the Crystal River Valley is significant and the county has serious concerns as to whether, as proposed, the project is appropriate in size, location, scope, practicability, need and the likelihood of actual completion,” reads the resolution.
Conditional water rights for the West Divide Project date back to the 1950s, and were tied to a plan to build two large reservoirs in the Crystal River Valley and divert the stored water to the Divide and Mamm Creek drainages in Garfield County. There, the water has been used for irrigation and purposes associated with the development oil shale or municipal uses.
The Osgood Reservoir would have flooded the village of Redstone, south of Carbondale, while the smaller Placita Reservoir upstream of Redstone would have flooded the canyon just below the turnoff to Marble at the base of McClure Pass. A reservoir on Yank Creek, a tributary of Thompson Creek, and miles of ditches, canals and siphons to transport water were also proposed.
The Colorado River Water Conservation District and West Divide Water Conservancy District, holders of the water rights, have continued to maintain the rights in court every six years, but this year downsized the project associated with them.
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The project has dropped the Osgood Reservoir at Redstone, and reduced the size of the Placita Reservoir, also moving it up to the Bogan Flats area. The Yank Creek Reservoir is also to be reduced in size. Diversions to Divide and Mamm creeks are to be eliminated.
“Although this is significant progress in addressing the health of the Crystal River and concerns of local residents, the correct litmus for evaluating the new proposed project is not how much smaller it is than the original, but whether, as proposed, it is appropriate in size, location, scope, practicability, need and likelihood of actual completion,” said a memo to commissioners from John Ely, county attorney.
Ely’s memo questions whether the new stated purpose for the project – generating hydroelectric power and stream management on the lower Crystal – is actually viable.
The county’s Healthy Rivers and Streams Board has unanimously recommended that a statement of opposition be filed in Water Court, Ely noted, and he recommends sufficient funds be reserved to oppose the conditional water rights associated with the revised project. The county has a voter-approved tax, supporting the Healthy Rivers and Streams Fund, to finance such an effort.