Matt Rice: Guest opinion | AspenTimes.com

Matt Rice: Guest opinion

Matt Rice
Special to The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

Aspen is right to ask the question: How do we reduce greenhouse gases? It is wrong to do it at the expense of Castle and Maroon creeks.

American Rivers has more than three decades of experience working to improve hydropower for fish, wildlife and people. We support many responsible hydropower projects around the country, but we cannot support the Castle Creek hydropower plant.

We are opposed to hydropower projects that will take more water than the river can provide safely, especially if the impacts to the environment outweigh the generation benefits, such as Castle Creek. Hydropower has provided many benefits to society including domestic and emission-free energy, but it has come at a tremendous cost to rivers. Hydropower development has fragmented river systems, impaired water quality, degraded habitat and directly led to the extinction of dozens, if not hundreds, of aquatic species.

Are Aspen residents comfortable leaving a legacy of perennial drought flows for their children and grandchildren?

Aspen has bent federal laws designed to protect rivers to the breaking point. The city has constructed essential elements of the hydropower project including the penstock, transmission lines, even purchasing the turbine prior to even beginning the licensing process.

There is a practical reason why federal law prohibits project construction prior to regulatory approval. By buying the turbine and constructing the project, the city has locked itself into cost and design constraints that make it impossible to meaningfully collaborate with the public on operational and design alternatives. It also will make it difficult, if not impossible, to operate the project in a manner that is both economically and environmentally sound.

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Last summer, we offered to work with the city to develop an appropriate project and process that Aspen could be proud of – one that puts the health of the creeks first. All of our recommendations were flatly rejected.

And we are not alone. River-conservation organizations with a proven track record of protecting and restoring rivers in Colorado, such as Trout Unlimited and the Western Rivers Institute, are opposed to this project. Even the Hydropower Reform Coalition, a national organization of more than 100 groups, has grave concerns with the approach the city has taken and the precedent it has set.

Aspen citizens need to understand that if the Castle Creek project is permitted as proposed, an entirely different model will be created – one that provides a blueprint for how to avoid important laws and regulations that stand to harm rivers well beyond Aspen.

American Rivers is not opposed to hydropower, quite the opposite actually. We have signed agreements supporting the operation of more than 8,000 MW of hydropower at dozens of hydropower projects, and we’ve indirectly supported the operation of almost 200 hydropower projects generating more than 11,200 MW of power across the country. But we cannot support this project as designed.

We welcome the opportunity to work with city to develop a hydropower project worthy of Aspen, one that puts the health of the creeks first, uses cutting-edge science rather than dated minimum-flow methodology, and does not bend or break important laws designed to protect rivers. It is clear that the Castle Creek project is not that project.

Aspen has asked the right question, but the Castle Creek hydropower plant is the wrong answer. The city needs to start over. Please join us, other stream ecologists, scientists, boaters and fishermen in opposing 2C.