Randy Udall: Guest opinion
October 23, 2012
Some of this town’s past eco-controversies seem laughable to me. Years ago, when black bears occupied Aspen like it was a Motel 6, God save anyone who shot a bruin in the ass with a beanbag. More recently, we spent months debating whether the fire pit on the mall could be run on biodiesel or yak butter rather than natural gas.
The current controversy over the Castle Creek hydro plant is more significant. It’s not a tempest in a teapot – it’s a question about whom you trust and what you believe.
The hydrologist Luna Leopold once wrote that “the health of our rivers is the principal measure of how we live on the land.” By that yardstick, the city of Aspen has done a sterling job. You can step into the Roaring Fork a yard downstream of the sewage treatment plant and fish gold-medal water all the way to Glenwood Springs.
Why, then, is your mailbox stuffed with fliers from mysterious groups that refuse to identify their donors and yet claim that the city can’t be trusted to operate a new hydro plant without destroying local rivers?
No matter that the city has been running a hydro plant on Maroon Creek for 25 years or one at Ruedi Reservoir for 40 years or that in the 1890s, silver miners used “white coal” to power the first electric grid west of the Mississippi.
This claim that the city can’t be trusted strikes me as curious. Did you shower today? Then you bathed in Castle Creek. Likewise, if you washed dishes, flushed a toilet or teed off at the golf course, you used water from Castle Creek. Man-made snow on Aspen Mountain is pulled from Castle Creek.
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Like most streams in the Rockies, Castle and Maroon creeks are working rivers, nourishing both natural ecosystems and the human economy. On a typical day, city employees will divert, filter, purify and deliver about 2 million gallons of Castle Creek. And so, when people tell me they don’t trust the city, I find myself wondering: Do they drink the tap water?
At the same time, I understand why some feel that City Hall is too damned powerful. Maybe they’ve been stalked by a meter maid or flogged by bureaucrats in the Building Department. Or maybe they don’t like Mayor Mick Ireland.
If you don’t like Mick, take a number and get in line. He’s mellowed some, but back in the day, he could be as abrasive as 60-grit sandpaper. Mick’s the only attorney I know who gets sued by his own clients. But when it comes time to eulogize him, someone will say, “Decades before Citizens United, long before anyone coined the term ‘1 percent,’ before billionaires were as numerous as plague insects, Mick had the wisdom to grasp that big money can pollute a community’s politics and ruin its environment.”
If the City Council has been successful at anything over these past 30 years, under Mayors Bill Stirling, John Bennett, Helen Klanderud, Rachel Richards and Ireland, it’s been to protect the natural beauty we all enjoy. Would you rather be in Vail?
The city has some of the cleanest air in Colorado, the highest portion of wind power of any of the nation’s 3,000 electric utilities, a well-funded climate-action program, the best mass-transit system in the state and a superb system of bike paths and nordic ski trails.
The claim that the city will ruin the creeks is alarmist. On the contrary, City Hall has used its senior water rights to protect in-stream flows on Castle and Maroon creeks, even in drought years when Hunter Creek and the Roaring Fork ran dry.
To reduce impacts from the new hydro plant, the city has agreed to many measures opponents have requested, including a “slow start” protocol and ongoing monitoring to protect stream health. The new hydro plant will generate most of its power during runoff, when the creeks are flush with 10 to 20 times more water than the city would divert.
The city has agreed to surrender control of fall, winter and spring diversions to a panel of outside experts, including representatives of the Division of Wildlife and Pitkin County’s Healthy Streams board. Finally, the city has agreed to voluntarily increase in-stream flows on both Castle and Maroon creeks.
One of those said to be funding the anti-hydro hysteria is Bill Koch, the billionaire coal baron, Castle Creek resident and climate-change denier. He’s trying to buy this election just like he is the White House.
What many fail to appreciate is that the earth is resilient in a way the sky is not. The forests have recovered from the miners’ clearcuts. But winter and snow are now under siege by global warming, and this is no passing phenomenon.
By dumping 100 million tons of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere each day, we are changing the climate for at least the next 2,000 years. We need healthy rivers, we need clean power, and we can have both.
The bottom line? Flip off the meter maid if need be, but vote “yes” on 2C.
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