Roadwork diverts Salvation Ditch |

Roadwork diverts Salvation Ditch

Muddy water flows through the Salvation Ditch on Red Mountain last week. (Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times)

PITKIN COUNTY Despite the concerns of some locals, county officials say Salvation Ditch will still supply irrigation water downvalley, as it has for more than 100 years.During a $2.85 million construction project along Red Mountain Road, work crews discovered a gas pipe, and engineers agreed to divert the ditch, adding two angles to a pipe as it crosses Red Mountain Road, county officials said.The ditch was originally serviced by a 42-inch corrugated metal pipe, but diverting away from the gas pipes meant using two new 36-inch pipes and adding two erosion walls to prevent destruction of the banks because of the different angle of the flow.Brian Pettet, public works director for Pitkin County, said the changes will not affect the adjudicated 58 cubic feet per second of water in the open system.”This will all work out,” Pettet said.Salvation Ditch is a circa-1903 irrigation ditch that runs from Stillwater – just east of Aspen – more than 20 miles to Woody Creek, crossing the Smuggler Mine property and tracing a portion of Red Mountain and McLain Flats along the way.Kirk Baker, caretaker of a property along McLain Flats, said he is concerned about the water diversion at the Red Mountain Road construction site.”They should have relocated that gas line,” Baker said. But instead, county officials decided to add the two turns in the ditch and the erosion walls. “That’s going to stop all of the pressure you have built up,” Baker said.And Baker, a longtime whitewater kayaker, added, “The dynamics of the water needs to keep rolling along. … They’ve virtually stopped the water.”Baker is concerned that the error will be cased in concrete once the road project is finished and said county officials should fix the problem now – and not have to dig up asphalt to clear the ditch later.”They should just take a little longer and fix it now,” Baker said.After an impromptu meeting last week between county officials and engineers, Pettet said crews built the erosion walls and diverted the water to avoid the gas pipe.And Michael Kiernan of the Salvation Ditch Co. was confident in the county’s work.”We’ve talked to the county. They seem to feel that everything is up to spec, and we hope they’re correct,” Kiernan said. “So far there are no problems.”The ditch has been empty in recent weeks because of the road construction, but Kiernan said his crews started to divert water into the ditch last week and the water would be running at full flow in coming days.”The proof will be when we get it up to full speed,” Kiernan said, adding he is confident in the county’s hydraulic engineers. “They’ve all addressed our concerns.”Pettet said the Red Mountain Road construction is not just about road improvement, but an overall utilities upgrade, including a new water main running up the steep hill, as well as the new pipes for Salvation Ditch.”You don’t want to have an old pipe going through a new road,” Pettet said.And Pettet stressed that as long as the county provides 58 cfs, the adjudicated water rights for the ditch, then the county will have fulfilled its commitment.”The good news is everyone’s working together,” Pettet said, and there has been no squabbling about who was there first, only proactive steps to solve the problem.If the new configuration does not carry the adjudicated amount of water along the ditch, crews have plenty of time before the roadwork is complete in October to solve the problem, Pettet said.When the water was turned on last week, there was an unrelated leakage along McLain Flats Road, but Pettet said the system is working well so far.”We’re conveying the water underneath the road,” Pettet said. One of the new pipes is 75 percent full, and the other is 50 percent full.”It’s kind of a lifeline of the community,” said George Stranahan, a Woody Creek rancher who, along with the more than 25 shareholders, benefits from water out of Salvation Ditch. “It is a very important water supply,” Stranahan said.”We are confident they will approve the new ditch,” Pettet said.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is

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