March 1, 2011

Comments on Aspen’s hydro power proposal

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Concerned local citizens tour the Maroon Creek diversion structure for a demonstration this summer of what minimum stream flow looks like. Photo by Brent Gardner-Smith.

Comments on the city of Aspen’s Castle Creek Energy Center and Hydroelectric Project, which would use 25 cfs of water from Castle Creek and 27 cfs of water from Maroon Creek, were due on Jan. 21. The city has applied for permission to proceed with the project to the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee (FERC) and is seeking to follow a procedural pathway that would avoid the necessity of a National Environmental Policy Act process, which could lead to an environmental impact statement.

Critical comments came in from Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers and Stream Board, American Rivers, Trout Unlimited, Western Resource Associates and the recently formed Western Rivers Institute. (See below).

Aspen District Ranger Scott Snelson of the U.S. Forest Service also raised questions, saying that “we believe that additional models may be needed to adequately prescribe ecologically based flows.”

Snelson also wrote that “the city is seeking a Conduit Exemption. In the City’s Draft Application dated October 10, 2010, the City references CWCB as a municipality. This could set a precedent with unintended consequences regarding State Water Law and CWCB instream flow rights being a municipal use. This could potentially have unintended consequences regarding irrigation ditches, municipal water supplies, etc located on Federal lands that have CWCB instream flow rights.”

Positive comments came in from the Colorado Governor’s Energy Office, which has an memorandum of understanding with FERC to streamline the permitting process for hydro projects.

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Supportive comments also came in from Auden Schendler, Aspen Skiing Co.’s vice president of sustainability, who wrote in as an individual citizen.

“I’m writing with regard to the FERC permitting of the proposed Castle Creek Hydroelectric project,” Schendler wrote. “I’d like to register my support for this project, and strong support for securing the FERC permit. I’ll be participating in the community mediation process, and I’m committed to listening to Castle Creek homeowners and other opponents, who have legitimate concerns.

“That said, clean energy development is crucial to the future of Aspen and the rest of society. Given our understanding of climate change and the certainty of carbon regulation and resulting power price increases, communities will need to move aggressively forward on projects like this for both fiscal and environmental reasons. The fact that a similar system operated for many decades on Castle Creek without damage is encouraging to me and a signal that now, when we need clean power more than ever, this project is important and should move forward.”

Other citizens also wrote supporting the project, but not as many citizens who wrote critical letters.

Below is Pitkin County’s 63-page report on the hydro project, which includes both letters and expert reports. The report is embedded in a document reader from the website and document-management service Document Cloud, which allows annotation and notes on key passages in documents.

You can use the document reader to view the documents as a whole or just skim through the annotated sections and related notes. You can also zoom in to adjust the size of the documents for easier reading.

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The city’s diversion structure on Maroon Creek, just above T Lazy Ranch. Photo by Brent Gardner-Smith.

American Rivers, a national river advocacy organization, is highly critical of Aspen’s approach to developing hydro. Here’s the organization’s comment letter via Document Cloud. Click on “notes” to read the essence of the group’s comments. You can use the “zoom” tool to increase the font size.

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Measuring cfs in Maroon Creek below the diversion structure this summer. Photo by Brent Gardner-Smith.

Below are the comments from Trout Unlimited Colorado.

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Trout Unlimited also sent in a more detailed critique of the Aspen hydro project. The highlighted document is below.

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Looking upstream of the Maroon Creek diversion structure. The orange balls are to warn kayakers about the diversion structure. Photo by Brent Gardner-Smith.

Western Resource Advocates was also critical of the proposal.

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Maroon Creek, below the diversion, at about 12 cfs, during the minimum stream flow demonstration. Photo by Brent Gardner-Smith.

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