Chelsea Congdon Brundige: Guest opinion |

Chelsea Congdon Brundige: Guest opinion

Chelsea Congdon Brundige
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

The rivers and streams that thread their way through this valley are the defining features of our landscape. They are the arteries that sustain the quality of our lives and life itself.

These headwater streams supply water for our homes and businesses, agriculture, snowmaking, recreation and energy development. These same streams also support 80 percent or more of all of our valley’s biodiversity, dependent upon flourishing and dynamic riparian floodplains – far wider, deeper and more productive than the river channel alone. And we and our local economy enjoy the fishing, rafting, hiking, hunting and camping on and along our scores of pristine streams, to say nothing of the solitude and spiritual nourishment of just silently absorbing the sights and sounds of moving water.

Over the past year – largely in response to the city of Aspen’s proposed Castle Creek Energy Center – residents of the Roaring Fork Valley are taking an ever-greater interest in questions related to the management and health of our rivers and streams, particularly in relation to the potential for renewable energy from hydropower generated though diversions from Castle and Maroon creeks.

Aspen’s exploration of hydropower potential will be repeated in many other communities in the mountain West. As demands for energy grow, and as the effects of climate change penetrate the public psyche, more and more cities will look to local streams as a source of renewable energy to reduce dependence on carbon-intensive fuels and gain the benefits of locally produced energy. So it is incumbent on our entire community to ensure that Aspen gets hydro right and sets an example for other mountain communities to follow in the 21st century.

Friends of Rivers and Renewables is a new local initiative dedicated to engaging the public in an exploration of the complex issues of renewable-energy development and river-ecosystem preservation. Specifically, how does a community work collaboratively to identify and prioritize renewable-energy sources and ensure that the projects it pursues are developed with minimal harm to local freshwater ecosystems? Friends of Rivers and Renewables is dedicated to educating valley residents and leaders through a timely and critical dialogue to better understand and ultimately balance the tradeoffs between laudable clean-energy goals and the need to preserve healthy river systems.

This is exactly the kind of thinking and leadership that Aspen is known for.

Friends of Rivers and Renewables is launching several projects aimed at helping the community learn more about the related issues of stream health and renewable energy. Working with local and regional organizations, agencies and experts, Friends of Rivers and Renewables is coordinating an effort to create a basin-wide “net” of gauges to monitor flows and other indices of stream health in threatened or impaired reaches of the Roaring Fork watershed. Real-time information on the condition of our rivers will provide a foundation for assessing the health of these ecosystems, a basis for evaluating potential impacts, and opportunities for wise mitigation and restoration.

Friends of Rivers and Renewables also is facilitating an open, collaborative process to evaluate all aspects of local hydropower options available to Aspen. Friends of Rivers and Renewables believes that complex and costly decisions about resource development should be analyzed and vetted through a fair and transparent public process that builds trust and consensus. Leading this effort will be Michael Kinsley, a senior consultant at Rocky Mountain Institute and a former Pitkin County commissioner.

And a series of Friends of Rivers and Renewables dialogues will commence this month at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies to provide public opportunities to learn from local and regional energy and resource conservation leaders. The initial forum will be on April 26 and feature Canadian ecologist Harvey Locke and Montana hydrologist Ric Hauer discussing the role of healthy rivers and streams in addressing the climate crisis.

Subsequent Friends of Rivers and Renewables dialogues are planned including “How Will Climate Change Affect the Roaring Fork Watershed,” led by Brad Udall, the director of western water assessment at the NOAA-CIRES Climate Diagnostics Center in Boulder.

All around the world, individuals and organizations are struggling to address the challenge of mitigating climate change without compromising the resilience of healthy ecosystems. Indeed, the implications of the “climate-versus-nature” debate could be as profound as the impacts of climate change itself. Friends of Rivers and Renewables believes that Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley have a unique opportunity to play a leadership role in developing thoughtful and timely responses to these complex issues. Friends of Rivers and Renewables is committed to engaging and educating residents of this community about the issues inherent in this debate, guided by our shared appreciation for rivers and renewables and our shared responsibility for clean energy solutions that do not sacrifice the lifeblood in our streams.

I hope you visit our website ( and join Friends of Rivers and Renewables to learn more about our projects, upcoming events and ways you can get involved.

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