April 1, 2015

Regional water efficiency plan for Roaring Fork watershed released

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Local river user on the Roaring Fork River in Basalt.

Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Local river user on the Roaring Fork River in Basalt.

Grizzly Creek, a main source of water for the city of Glenwood Springs.

Brent Gardner-Smith / Aspen Journalism

Grizzly Creek, a main source of water for the city of Glenwood Springs.

EL JEBEL – Aside from any wild cards thrown by climate change, all the towns in the Roaring Fork River valley have enough water to meet forecasted demands in 2035, especially if the individual towns actively pursue water efficiency measures.

That’s according to draft water efficiency plans recently developed for Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.

“Glenwood Springs,” for example, “is fortunate to have physically abundant, high quality water sources that primarily drain a pristine, protected watershed,” its plan notes.

But while the towns in the watershed are blessed with water, they have many opportunities to use the water more efficiently, especially in the face of a hotter and drier climate and increasing diversions on local rivers and streams.

In addition to the individual municipal plans, which are now being reviewed by the state, a regional efficiency plan has also been developed.

“The regional plan is an effort to try and interject some regional sensibility into the process by suggesting some activities and programs that could be common to all of the water providers up and down the valley,” said Mark Fuller, the executive director of the Ruedi Water and Power Authority.

A very lightly attended public-comment meeting on the regional plan was held on Tuesday, March 31 at the Eagle County building in El Jebel. The comment period on the regional plan closes May 10.

The plan suggests that an efficiency-working group be set up. It also calls for a funding plan, a regional coordinator and an intergovernmental agreement on efficiency goals.

Measures such as leak detection and repair, public education and better management of irrigation water systems could help reduce water use.

Challenges include people’s traditional desire for green lawns, fear of diminishing both revenue and water rights through reduced use and the challenge of informing visitors and second-home owners.

A graphic in Aspen's draft water efficiency plan shows that the city has generally been using less water over time.

City of Aspen

A graphic in Aspen's draft water efficiency plan shows that the city has generally been using less water over time.

Water use by town

Aspen’s current annual demand is for 3,377 acre-feet of water a year, according to ELEMENT Water Consulting and WaterDM, which wrote the plans for Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.

With its significant senior water rights on Castle and Maroon creeks, Aspen has a “likely yield” of 26,850 acre feet annually.

“The analysis completed for this water efficiency plan indicates that the likely yield of the City’s direct flow water rights is around 26,850 AF in a dry year; however some of the City’s water rights are decreed for irrigation use only, and cannot be covered as part of the city’s treated water supply,” the plan notes.

That means, at least on paper, that Aspen now has a cushion of 23,473 acre feet of water.

But what about the future, when Aspen’s year-round, full-time population is expected to rise from 10,500 to 13,500 by the year 2035?

With passive efficiency measures, such as water-efficient plumbing fixtures now being required in new homes and buildings, Aspen’s demand is expected to rise to 4,137 acre feet a year.

But if the city actively pursues efficiency, as it has been doing for the past 20 years, its demand would rise to just 3,597 acre feet by 2035, up only slightly from today’s current demand of 3,377 acre feet.

“On an annual basis, the dry year yield of the city’s water rights appears to be more than sufficient to meet current and forecast future demands,” Aspen’s plan notes, as do the other local plans.

The city of Aspen's Leonard M. Thomas Reservoir, next to the city's water treatment plan, can hold water from both Castle and Maroon creeks.

Jordan Curet / Aspen Daily News

The city of Aspen's Leonard M. Thomas Reservoir, next to the city's water treatment plan, can hold water from both Castle and Maroon creeks.

Carbondale’s demand will go

Carbondale has a current yield of about 2,800 acre feet per year, primarily from Nettle Creek, and has a current demand of 1,208 acre feet annually.

With passive efficiency, Carbondale’s use could climb to 2,395 acre feet in 2035, relatively close to its 2,800 acre-feet of current supply.

But with active efficiency measures, the projected demand in Carbondale could be held to a more manageable 2,099 acre feet.

Glenwood has a yield of 7,525 acre feet in a dry year, primarily from Grizzly and No Name creeks, and a current demand of 1,998 acre feet.

With passive measures, Glenwood’s use could climb to 3,065 acre feet.

But with active efficiency measures, its demand could be held to 2,837 acre feet in 2035.

Basalt has a yield of 1,700 acre feet, primarily from two springs on Basalt Mountain.

It has a current demand of 586 acre feet and an active-efficiency forecast of 1,017 acre feet in 2035.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Times and the Post both published a version of this story on Tuesday, March 31, 2015.

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