Quality of Aspen’s river water is latest victim of recession
August 18, 2009
ASPEN – The city of Aspen’s undersized and deteriorating system to keep pollutants out of the Roaring Fork River has been hit by the national recession, forcing officials to do minimal improvements to the network.
That was the message delivered to the Aspen City Council on Monday by engineering officials who were looking for direction on what projects to prioritize since funding has been cut by about a quarter as a result of less development.
In May 2007, the council approved a system development fee of $2.88 charged to each “impervious” square foot of redevelopment and new development in the city. Current funding levels and estimated revenue projections will not allow for several improvements to be made to minimize stormwater impacts.
April Barker, the city’s stormwater manager, told the council that the fee was originally estimated to generate $900,000 annually. This year, it will bring in $430,000. Projections over the next decade have been adjusted to reflect a 4 percent increase each year.
As a result, several projects have been put on hold, most of which have to do with flood control. However, three projects related to water quality have been given high priority and will be funded with money available.
An estimated $800,000 generated annually from a 2007 voter-approved Clean River Initiative, which levies a special property tax of .065 mills, is on budget, Barker said.
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The largest and perhaps the most important project that got the go-ahead is the Rio Grande Park redesign, which will cost $3.4 million and be completed in 2014. Underground wetlands will be created near the John Denver Sanctuary, adjacent to the river, in depressed areas of the park. The playing field will not be impacted.
Rio Grande Park is a key area to collect sediment because currently the runoff from Mill Street goes into the river untreated. Another project slated this fall is to extend 400 feet of pipe down Mill Street from the Durant mine that will end at the Jennie Adair Wetlands.
That project will cost $200,000 and take at least six weeks to complete. It will require the street to be torn up, which is why it will be done in the off-season, Barker said.
The second priority project is a mudflow study to determine the impacts of flows off Aspen Mountain. During 2010 and 2011, officials will spend $325,000 to determine what risks and damages could be incurred as a result of mud flowing from the mountain. Officials will then determine how to proceed.
Other wetlands need to be created around town, and from 2011 to 2013, engineering officials will do a couple of master plans in different areas. The first will be Smuggler Mountain and Hunter Creek. Street corrections will be made based on what is determined from the master plan. That project will cost $1.2 million.
The city’s stormwater management program was created after various reports of degraded water quality in the Roaring Fork River in 2006. And five years prior to that, a master plan identified an undersized conveyance system within the city limits.
A citizen review committee was formed, and it determined the city’s stormwater management activities were inadequate. The committee recommended $19.2 million in improvements with revenue generated by the property tax and development fees. Now, that figure has been revised to $12 million over 15 years.
City Engineer Trish Aragon said Aspen discharges pollutants into the watershed at a level 20 times greater than the national average. Even if the money that was originally budgeted was realized, it’s unlikely that the Roaring Fork River within the city limits could be returned to pristine status, Barker added.
The city has made strides to lessen the impacts through several initiatives but it’s not nearly enough. For instance, the city was able to divert 60 tons of sediment last year from the river through vaults and inlets.
Mayor Mick Ireland said that’s about 3 percent of all pollutants generated that go into the river.
Council members said they want more information about what projects will bring the greatest amount of return, and ones that are quantifiable.
City Manager Steve Barwick said the council could likely be faced with eliminating one-third of the projects slated when it reviews the 2010 budget this fall.
Since Barker became the city’s stormwater manager more than a year ago, several initiatives have been focused on:
• Preventing pollution from construction sites by enforcing the installation of erosion prevention and sediment control measures.
• Monitoring and investigating illicit discharges by offenders through complaints.
• Mechanical removal structures will be installed along the edges of streets to remove pollutants like sediment, oil, grease, grit, gravel and sand. It involves removing, replacing and improving streets, curb, gutters, inlets and catch basins.
This correction was published Aug. 21:
There were errors contained in the Aug. 18 article regarding the city of Aspen’s stormwater management plan. Water quality measures will be completed but flood control projects are put on hold. The Clean Water Initiative, which levies a special property tax is .65 mills. Also the 400-foot pipe planned to be installed this fall will extend down Puppy Smith Street from Mill Street to Jennie Adair and the mudflow study to determine impacts of Aspen Mountain will cost $125,000.