Snowmass seeking water from the Roaring Fork for backup supply

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Journalism
Under the proposed right, the district could divert, at a point just downstream from Jaffee Park, up to 9 cubic feet per second of water from the Roaring Fork and pump it up to Snowmass Village via a roughly six-mile pipeline running along the Brush Creek valley.
Anna Stonehouse/Snowmass Sun

The Snowmass Water and Sanitation District is seeking a new water right to divert as much as 500 acre-feet of water a year from the Roaring Fork River as backup in case something happens to its primary water sources on East Snowmass Creek and Snowmass Creek.

Under the proposed right, the district could divert, at a point just downstream from Jaffee Park, as much as 9 cubic feet per second of water from the Roaring Fork and pump it up to Snowmass Village via a roughly 6-mile pipeline running along the Brush Creek valley.

The district calls the project the “Roaring Fork intake pipeline.”

“This is an insurance policy for the district,” district manager Kit Hamby said.

The district, whose service area includes the town of Snowmass Village, filed an application for the water right in Division 5 water court in Glenwood Springs on Dec. 31, 2017.

Hamby said the district is in productive negotiations with the state, the only party that filed a statement of opposition in the case.

The proposed diversion point will allow the district to capture and reuse water that has flowed down Brush Creek from the district’s wastewater-treatment plant on the Snowmass golf course.

The diversion would deliver water from the river to a pumphouse located “river right” a few hundred yards below the put-in for the popular Toothache run on the Roaring Fork and about a mile above Woody Creek’s post office.

The project’s initial pump station would be built on what is now private land, and the pipeline would come up along the river, cross it and then head up the Brush Creek valley, where other pump stations would be used to move the water.

The Roaring Fork water would be sent either to the district’s wastewater-treatment plant, which sits under the Village Express chairlift at the Snowmass Ski Area, or to Ziegler Reservoir, which holds 252 acre-feet of water.

From Ziegler, which sits on the divide between the Snowmass Creek and the Brush Creek basins, the district can gravity-feed the water to the rest of its system.

“This is a project that probably won’t happen for years, maybe even decades, and it may never happen,” Hamby said, noting it’s in the category of “long-term resiliency planning.”

“We’d have to have some catastrophic event in Snowmass Creek to move forward with this,” he said, referencing a drought, landslide or wildfire. “If we were to lose that source of water, we’d need to go to another source of water, and we wouldn’t want that source of water to be in Snowmass Creek.”

Hamby said there is no current cost estimate on the project.

Given the project’s long-range nature, he said, “In today’s dollars, (an estimate is) just about meaningless.”

The district’s application drew one statement of opposition, from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The state agency holds a series of “instream flow” rights in the Roaring Fork meant to leave water in the river to benefit the environment.

The agency’s rights include a 1985 right in the section between Maroon Creek and the Fryingpan River of 30 cfs from Oct. 1 to March 31 and 55 cfs from April 1 to Sept. 30, and Hamby said the district intends to honor those instream flow rights, and won’t divert if the river is too low.

The district also plans to use the 500 acre-feet of water it owns in Ruedi Reservoir, on the Fryingpan River above Basalt, as a backup supply water so that the new water right does not get “called,” or turned off, by senior downstream water rights on the Colorado River above Grand Junction.

If the senior water rights call out upstream junior water rights, instead of turning of the diversion into its new pipeline, the district would release the water it owns in Ruedi to flow down the Fryingpan through Basalt and onto the Colorado River.

The district has existing water rights to divert out of East Snowmass Creek as many as 5 cfs, which the district can gravity-feed down a pipeline to Ziegler Reservoir.

Hamby said about 96 percent of the water used daily in the resort town comes from the East Snowmass Creek diversion point, at a steady flow of about 2 cfs.

The district also has a right to divert as much as 6 cfs out of Snowmass Creek, just downstream from the Campground lift. It can then pump that water uphill to Ziegler.

Hamby said about 2 percent of the water used by the district now comes from Snowmass Creek, and most of that is used for snowmaking.

Until 2013, the district provided water for snowmaking directly from Snowmass Creek, but a complex instream-flow right held by the CWCB limited the amount of water available.

Now, the district provides water for snowmaking directly out of Ziegler, buffering the creek and allowing the ski area’s snowmaking system to turn on and go all out.

Expansion of Ziegler started in 2011, when the bones of other prehistoric animals emerged from the bottom of the reservoir. It started holding water in 2013. According to Hamby, Aspen Skiing Co. put $3.75 million into the project, which cost $10.7 million.

The district also has a right to divert .77 cfs of water out of West Fork Brush Creek, a tributary of Brush Creek that forms Garrett Gulch at the ski area.

Hamby says the project is not meant to simply allow the district to use more water or to allow the town of Snowmass to grow more than it has to date.

He said he’s proud the district has driven down the amount of water used by it and town residents, adding that Roaring Fork water is truly seen as backup.

In 2002, the district was annually providing 660 million gallons, or 2,025 acre-feet, of water. Today, the district is annually providing 425 million gallons, or 1,304 acre-feet.

Hamby credits the reductions to the district’s aggressive leak-detection and repair program and high-tech smart meters, which let homeowners closely track their indoor- and outdoor-water use.

A status conference in the ongoing water-court case is set for Jan. 3.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Snowmass Sun collaborated on this story. More at