April 21, 2014

Draft list of regional water projects tightened up

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A headgate on an irrigation ditch on Maroon Creek, a tributary of the Roaring Fork River.

Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

A headgate on an irrigation ditch on Maroon Creek, a tributary of the Roaring Fork River.

Grottos-water

Brent Gardner-Smith / Aspen Journalism

Smith / Aspen Journalism

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Consultants for the Colorado River Basin Roundtable earlier this week passed out a much shorter list of water projects to be potentially included in a draft water-supply plan for the area.

New reservoirs on upper Castle and Maroon creeks were not included on the working draft list, but enlarging three existing reservoirs in the Roaring Fork River watershed are.

The potentially expanded reservoirs include Spring Park Reservoir on Missouri Heights; Ziegler Reservoir just outside of Snowmass Village; and Martin Reservoir just above the Sunlight ski area.

Instead of over 500 potential projects and updated policy suggestions, the draft list passed out at a roundtable meeting on Monday by consulting engineer Louis Meyer of SGM included 95 potential projects and policies.

SGM has divided the broader Colorado River Basin in Colorado into seven sub-regions: the Roaring Fork, Grand Valley, Middle Colorado, State Bridge, Eagle, Summit and Grand County regions.

Meyer expected to ultimately see about seven to 10 of the projects identified per region under the category of “needs and vulnerabilities.”

In discussing the earlier list of 500-plus potential projects and policy changes identified for the Colorado River Basin, Meyer noted that many projects on the longer list would likely remain conceptual.

“Now mind you, a lot of these reservoirs will never be built,” Meyer said. “There are reservoirs, say, up Maroon Creek or Castle Creek — the chances are they will never be built.”

“Let’s just say, ‘won’t be built for quite a while,’” interjected Mike McDill, the deputy director of utilities for the city of Aspen.

The city holds conditional water rights for reservoirs on both upper Castle and Maroon creeks and wants to see the reservoirs mentioned in the statewide water plan.

“Thank you,” Meyer said to McDill, before suggesting that the reservoirs won’t be built “under today’s present political values.”

After the roundtable meeting on Monday, McDill said he hoped the next draft of the list would be less specific in regard to Aspen’s water projects and instead point out a broader concept such as a “back-up supply of domestic water.”

Expanding reservoirs

There are, in fact, no new reservoirs shown in the Roaring Fork region on the draft list of projects, just expansions of three existing reservoirs.

Ziegler Reservoir is just outside of the town of Snowmass Village and was recently expanded to hold 252 acre-feet of water. During that process, a veritable Ice Age zoo was unearthed, including well-preserved mammoth, mastodon, bison and sloth bones.

The Snowmass Water and Sanitation District holds conditional water rights that might allow the reservoir to be expanded by another 105 acre-feet of water, according to documents from SGM.

The expansion of the Spring Park, or Missouri Heights, Reservoir is listed as a “conceptual idea” on the draft project list under the category of “smart growth plan.”

Earlier versions of the draft project list said the water could be used for either increased agricultural use or additional domestic use by the Mid Valley Metro District, which serves the Willits, El Jebel and Blue Lake neighborhoods.

The Martin Reservoir is on Four Mile Creek off of County Road 117 above the Sunlight ski area. According to information from SGM, it holds 39.43 acre-feet today and feasibility studies have been completed on enlarging it so it could hold 263.67 acre-feet.

Other projects that would entail new construction include the Four Mile and the Avalanche canal and siphon projects, which would divert water from Avalanche and Four Mile creeks.

Environmental gap

Many of the projects on the shorter draft list are designed to leave more water in the rivers to the benefit of aquatic environments.

However, Meyer said there is still a non-consumptive, or environmental, gap in the Colorado basin’s draft plan.

Meyer said the plan did not yet have solutions to leave more water in all of the 64 critical stream segments in the basin identified by the state.

“This plan will recommend that more work be done on identifying a systemic approach to projects and polices to restore and maintain healthy rivers,” Meyer said.

As an example, Meyer cited three reaches of river in the Roaring Fork watershed that had at times run well below the minimum in-stream flows defined by the state as necessary to protect the environment “to a reasonable degree.”

The critical reaches are on the lower Crystal River below the Sweet Jessup Ditch, on the Roaring Fork just above its confluence with the Fryingpan River in Basalt, and on the Roaring Fork in central Aspen below the Salvation Ditch.

Many of the projects identified on the short list for the Roaring Fork region are being recommended for their ability to “protect, maintain and restore healthy rivers.”

Projects that have been identified toward that goal include: restoring sections of the Roaring Fork as it winds through the Northstar nature preserve east of Aspen; the ongoing river restoration work in Basalt; and a restoration project on Cattle Creek, which flows into the Fork between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.

Other environmental projects listed were whitewater parks in Basalt and Carbondale, which can help ensure a certain amount of water will flow down the Fork; the city of Aspen’s project to re-use wastewater for irrigation and snowmaking; Pitkin County’s effort to leave more water from its open space properties in the Fork; and efficiency efforts by local water utilities.

Also mentioned were ongoing discussions with irrigators on the Crystal River to find a way to leave more water in the river below the Sweet Jessup Ditch, where the river often runs nearly dry.

Meeting the supply gap

Meyer stressed that latest list of potential projects is in draft form.

“We expect a lot of input from the roundtable members on the list,” he said.

During his presentation on Monday, Meyer said the earlier, longer list of projects could, in theory, result in about 400,000 acre-feet of new water storage.

This exceeds a projected gap in new water supply projects by almost a factor of 10, said Meyer.

“We do have plenty of projects to meet the gap,” Meyer said.

In 2010, a state study identified a gap of 110,000 acre-feet between supply and demand in the Colorado River Basin by 2050.

And the state found that projects already in the planning stage could produce 63,000 acre-feet of water, leaving an expected gap of 48,000 acre-feet.

Lurline Curran, the Grand County manager and roundtable member, said it would be wrong to leave the impression that there was still plenty of water to be taken out of the Colorado River Basin.

“We can build every reservoir we’ve got here, but we’re not going to have healthy rivers and streams if we do that,” Curran said. “It worries me when we say ‘We’ve got 10 times more than we need to meet our gap.’ No, we don’t, not if we’re going to protect and maintain healthy rivers and streams and protect our drinking water.”

The Colorado roundtable is set to meet next on April 28 to discuss the draft list.

Editor’s note:
Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published a version of this story on Saturday, April 19, 2014.

One thought on “Draft list of regional water projects tightened up

  1. Brent,

    Another excellent article on this arcane topic. And, for those of us along Castle Creek very reassuring.

    Many thanks,

    Simon