Guest commentary: Don’t dam the Maroon Bells |

Guest commentary: Don’t dam the Maroon Bells

On Sept. 27, the Aspen City Council voted unanimously to move forward with a resolution to develop a 150-foot dam on Maroon Creek and a 175-foot dam on Castle Creek in the shadow of the world-renowned Maroon Bells.

The council will take formal action today. These dams would flood private property on Castle Creek as well as federally protected land in the Maroon Bells Wilderness, one of the most visited and photographed valleys in Colorado. American Rivers strongly encourages the Aspen City Council to rethink its Sept. 27 decision and vote to permanently cancel plans for these destructive projects.

Aspen does not need these dams for municipal water supply, climate resiliency or for stream protection — now or at any time in the foreseeable future. There are several cost-effective and environmentally sound alternatives that communities throughout the West are pursuing to meet future water demands while building community resilience to climate change, including enhanced conservation, water reuse, flexible water-sharing agreements, innovative natural water storage solutions, limiting outdoor irrigation, targeted traditional storage, sustainable groundwater development, and increased in-stream flow protection. Climate change is very real, and the Colorado River Basin will continue to feel its effect as much as any region in the world, but addressing the issue with a grossly outdated solution is the wrong approach.

Aspen’s own 2016 water availability report clearly shows that Aspen does not need these dams. The report can be found at​AL_6.1.2016.pdf and clearly states that existing water supplies can meet Aspen’s future demands (to 2064) and protect in-tream flows on Castle and Maroon creeks without the need to store more water, much less the nearly 15,000 acre-feet of water that would fill the two dams.

Constructing a pair of 15-story tall dams and flooding the Castle and Maroon creek valleys would likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but the monetary price would pale in comparison to the damage the dams would do to the natural environment. The massive ecological impact of dams has been thoroughly documented. Over 80,000 dams in the United States have fragmented habitat, degraded water quality, led to the extinction of dozens of aquatic species and continue to cause significant public safety risks — all at great cost to society. Additionally, recent studies show that dams may actually contribute to climate change by producing methane from the stagnant water. The national trend is to remove dams in places like the Maroon Bells, not build them.

Aspen City Council must make the right decision and vote to walk away from these damaging projects once and for all. For the sake of future generations, please encourage the council to do so.

American Rivers protects wild rivers, restores damaged rivers, and conserves clean water for people and nature. American Rivers has offices across the country, including in Denver and Glenwood Springs, and more than 200,000 members and supporters. Visit

Matt Rice is director of the Colorado River Basin Program for American Rivers.

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