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Standley: 15 steps Aspen needs to take to preserve the Colorado River Basin

Stacy Standley
Guest Commentary
Stacy Standley ran for mayor of Aspen in 1973 after community outrage over construction of big box buildings. He won three terms of two years each.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times

I have digested and studied the Aspen Water Efficiency Plan, and, after my analysis, I contacted John Musick, who served as the city and county’s water attorney for about two decades. He was hired during my first term as mayor in 1973 and served Herman Edel and Bill Stirling’s administrations, as well. There is, in my mind, no better authority on Aspen’s water or the entire Colorado River Basin.

He and I have drafted the following comments:

In the period 1973 through 1991, Musick served my council, followed by Herman Edel, and then Bill Stirling’s administrations. All three of these city councils and the Pitkin County commissioners were focused on the proper balance of fairness, growth, and prosperity based in no small part on a complete understanding of the intricacies of the water-energy-food-climate-society nexus.



We developed and implemented, with strong public support, Aspen’s first “Comprehensive Water and Energy Management Plan.” That plan served the city and county well for decades.

Now is the time to take a giant step into the future with revolutionary ideas that transcend the parochial local interests of the Roaring Fork River Valley by recognizing that climate/weather change, along with population growth, has erased the boundaries of the Colorado River Basin.




Aspen is now the pivotal headwaters of the Colorado River Basin, which has become a small, compacted irrigation canal instead of a great river system and has shrunk many hundreds of miles into but a few feet. And, as such, Aspen must take a major, significant role in the future of the entire Colorado River Basin by proposing in the new Water Management Plan steps throughout this basin.

It was in that spirit that the following concepts are proposed for the new Aspen Water Ethic. These concepts are based upon Musick’s years working on the entire Colorado River System and consulting with the very best minds of public policy, engineering, and science and water law. Every concept has deeply embedded science, engineering, public policy, and law that are accepted knowledge:

1. There should be 100% metering and billing of every drop of water: 7% of the Aspen distribution is unmetered and/or unbilled and unmetered, and this should be eliminated. 

2. You can not distribute or control what you do not measure: Metering and billing should be by constant recorded, instantaneous, wifi-linked electronic services on all distribution points and reported to every customer and the Water Department on a instantaneous daily basis, with auto shutoffs for an aberration of usage by 1% or more. 

3. All wastewater and storm water must be a fully-integrated part of the treated water-supply system by municipal recycling and/or irrigation and municipal water usage.

4. Downstream water flows that exceed minimum stream flow must be acquired and piped back into the upstream Aspen intake.

5. Aspen and Pitkin County must negotiate with Twin Lakes Canal and Reservoir Co. and the Fry-Ark project to create water savings for their service area and water that can be allowed to stay in the Roaring Fork River Valley.

6. Salvation Ditch, Red Mountain Ditch, and all other local irrigation systems should become a part of the Aspen water conservation and re-use ethic.

 7. 100% of all leaks and water waste must be ended immediately.

8. Every tree, plant, and natural out-of-house improvement must be identified and the water usage calculated by Lysimeter and/or other instantaneous soil moisture storage measurement system and then a local research and development lab created to test, grow, and install water conserving plants and systems for out-of-house water management and control.

9. All local streets should be coated with bright reflective surfaces to maintain a cooler urban-heat island and, thus, improve out-of-house water usage.

10. Aspen should create its own bottled (no plastic) water supply for individual use from a high-quality spring and distribute at least 2 gallons per person per day inside of the city service area for drinking water usage at cost to increase the Aspen water supply.

11. Aspen should divert into vertically oriented pipeline coils (24 to 48 inch) in all area streams to capture water runoff that exceeds minimum stream flows and keep the vertical-coiled pipelines at or above the city base elevation for instantaneous “pipeline coil reservoir storage.”

12. Every new or remodeled home and business must have installed an on-site water-storage tank for at least three months of driest in-house water usage.

13. Aspen should participate individually and/or with other Colorado River Basin water users in regional ocean, salt flats, and poor quality oil field wastewater/produced water (i.e., Rangely Field and Utah Basin) purification desalination and urban wastewater recycling for earning water-use credits.

14. Aspen should negotiate with Colorado River Basin Native American tribes to create constructive water savings and water-credit system for the benefit of reservation and also Aspen water usage.

15. Aspen should negotiate to replace Colorado River Basin hydroelectric-power generation with renewable energy to earn water storage credits for regional reservoir.

Stacy Standley was the mayor of Aspen from 1973 to 1979.