Wilderness Workshop challenges city of Aspen over dams

Staff report

Wilderness Workshop filed a statement of opposition Wednesday to the city of Aspen’s preliminary intent to build reservoirs on Castle and Maroon creeks, the Carbondale conservation group announced.

The nonprofit joins Pitkin County in opposition to damming the two streams to conserve water for future use. County commissioners voted 3-2 on Tuesday to file a statement of opposition in District 5 Water Court in Glenwood Springs.

“We applaud the city for its record of environmental stewardship and commitment to studying alternatives to building dams in two of Colorado’s most iconic valleys,” said Conservation Director Will Roush in a statement. “The water court process includes a pretrial settlement period which provides an excellent opportunity for us to work with the city to find a solution that both protects these two creeks and ensures Aspen has a long term, reliable water supply.”

Wilderness Workshop said building the two reservoirs would “flood portions of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness and cause significant ecological damage to the two creeks. … The city’s conditional water rights can be used only for construction of the two dams to store water. They offer no legal protections for the two creeks. Wilderness Workshop supports increasing protections for the two creeks, including an increase in the minimum in-stream flow to include spring peak flows.”

Aspen City Council voted Oct. 10 to renew its conditional water rights on the two rivers. Its filing was made Oct. 31 in water court.

Elected officials and city officials have maintained they must renew the water rights in preparation for 50 years from now when Aspen’s population could be nearly triple what it is today, as well as climate change’s impact on the water supply. Both Maroon and Castle creeks supply the city’s drinking water.

On Monday, the city announced that it is open to exploring alternatives to reservoirs.