Skico’s model for water conservation at on-mountain facilities could help Aspen avoid future dams
While Aspen Skiing Co. is proud of its water conservation efforts at its on-mountain restaurants, the water usage at the facilities “pales by comparison” to snowmaking efforts, acknowledged Vice President of Sustainability Auden Schendler.
Skico makes significant amounts of snow, when Mother Nature allows, at Aspen Mountain, Snowmass and Buttermilk and a lesser amount at Aspen Highlands.
The water used for snowmaking at Aspen Mountain comes from the municipal water supply. Raw water is the source at the other ski areas, Schendler said.
Snowmass used the most water for snowmaking last season at 106,876,000 gallons, according to figures supplied by Skico.
Buttermilk used 61,675,420 gallons, largely to prepare courses for the Winter X Games in January.
Aspen Mountain used 59,213,000 gallons last year. Much of the use was to cover the racecourse for the women’s World Cup races in November.
Aspen Highlands used the least at 13,395,718 gallons.
Skico’s total water usage for snowmaking last season was 241,160,138.
Snowmaking got off to a slow start this year because of the unseasonably warm fall.
Most people would probably pack it in if they discovered 75 percent of their work was getting flushed down the toilet.
Brad Hardman took it as a challenge.
Hardman started working for Aspen Skiing Co. in 2000 and embarked on a multi-year plan to massively boost water conservation at the company’s four ski areas.
“I would say 75 percent of the water I make goes down the toilets,” said Hardman, facility management co-director for Skico.
It makes sense for Skico to avoid using treated, potable water whenever possible simply because it is expensive.
“I decided to send raw water to the toilets,” Hardman said. “The mountain water is clean, just not suitable to drink.”
So when the Elk Camp Restaurant was constructed five years ago, Skico acted on Hardman’s advice and ran a raw water line to supply all the flush toilets in the restaurant. Instead of pumping water up from the base area, water is gravity fed from a small reservoir 185 feet higher on the slopes than the restaurant, providing the pressure needed for flushing. Skico eliminated spending for processing water and the energy to pump it to the restaurant.
That’s just one small step Hardman has taken in the past 15 years.
“A big one in my book has always been infrastructure,” he said.
Pipes were like “Swiss cheese”
When Hardman started the job, Skico could barely provide water to five of its on-mountain restaurants at Aspen Mountain, Snowmass and Buttermilk because the pipes were too leaky. Supplying water as high as 11,000 feet in elevation is a tough endeavor under the best of circumstances. An inordinate amount of energy was wasted pumping the water through plumbing that Hardman said resembled “Swiss cheese.”
Aspen Highlands was in better shape after major infrastructure replacement in the late 1990s.
Hardman convinced Skico executives that they needed to fund capital improvements over time to replace the water lines at the ski areas. That work was budgeted over time and is nearly complete.
Once that mission was accomplished, Hardman set his sights on reducing the demand for water. Skico invested in a telemetry system that allows Hardman to monitor performance of the various pump stations and water levels at storage tanks. In short, if a urinal at the Sundeck restaurant on Aspen Mountain is leaking, Hardman will figure it out.
Sundeck cut use in half
He repaired leaky fixtures and replaced old, inefficient models with state-of-the art ones. Nearly all restaurants have been retrofitted with waterless urinals and low-flow toilets that use 1.6 gallons per flush. Hardman is no fan of auto-flush toilets and urinals. They often get triggered by movement even if a person isn’t finished with their business, he said.
The simple conversation steps have had an immense impact, as exemplified by the Sundeck. Prior to 2010, the flagship restaurant atop Aspen Mountain was using between 2.2 million and 2.7 million gallons of potable water per year.
The retrofits and other conservation measures have reduced use to about 1.2 million gallons per year, Hardman said.
Usage at Bonnie’s Restaurant on Aspen Mountain fell from 450,000 to 250,000 gallons per year. The Cliffhouse’s water usage fell from 160,000 to 103,000 gallons per year.
At Snowmass, about 800,000 gallons of water was being pumped per year from a water treatment plant near Garret Gulch to Sam’s Knob, Ullrhof, Picnic Palace and Lynn Britt cabin. Water-conservation measures have reduced that to 220,000 gallons per year, according to Hardman.
“I’m pretty happy with the results,” he said.
The snowmaking systems are separate from the infrastructure that supplies the on-mountain facilities.
broader Model for Aspen
Auden Schendler, Skico’s vice president of sustainability, credited Hardman with saving Skico “a shocking amount of water.”
Not all of the water used by the ski areas is processed by municipalities. Aspen Mountain is supplied by water treated by Skico, and Buttermilk uses wells. Skico treats the water for on-mountain facilities at Snowmass and relies on the water district to supply some base facilities. Aspen Highlands uses water from the city of Aspen.
Regardless of the water source, the big lesson from Skico’s efforts is it could be replicated throughout Aspen and drastically decrease the city’s water needs, Schendler said.
A fight broke out this year over the city of Aspen’s possible plan to meet future water needs. City officials want to retain conditional water rights for possible construction of dams and reservoirs in Castle and Maroon Creek valleys. They say they need to retain that option in a world where the effects of global warming are unknown.
Environmentalists have criticized the plan and object to the retention of the water rights.
Water conservation on a community scale could eliminate the need for dams, Schendler said.
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