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In 2016, Aspen Journalism primarily focused on coverage of rivers and water in the Roaring Fork and Colorado river basins, and did so in collaboration with the Aspen Daily News and Coyote Gulch.
Aspen Journalism was founded in January 2011 and so 2016 marked Aspen Journalism’s sixth full year of operations.
Approach to reporting
In 2016, Aspen Journalism staffed one primary desk, the Water Desk. It was staffed by Editor and Executive Director Brent Gardner-Smith. He reported on water and rivers near Aspen, in Colorado and in the West, writing over 50 stories and attending over 50 meetings around Colorado.
He also worked with several freelance reporters and editors on stories and projects, including Allen Best, Catherine Lutz, and Tim Cooney.
Most of Aspen Journalism’s water stories in 2016 were published in collaboration with the Aspen Daily News.
The stories were also published on Aspen Journalism’s website, normally with the added value of links to source documents and photos and graphics.
Additionally, the stories were published on Coyote Gulch, an online aggregation of water stories produced for an engaged audience of water professionals in Colorado.
The stories gained further exposure through a daily email list of state and regional water stories prepared by Loretta Lohrman, associated with Colorado State University, as well as other emailed roundups of aggregated water stories.
Also in 2016, Aspen Journalism further magnified its stories by discussing water issues in news segments produced by, and aired on, Aspen Public Radio and KDNK Carbondale Community Access Radio.
Stories produced by Aspen Journalism’s Water Desk in 2016:
Jan. 30, 2016
Aspen to develop river management plan for upper Fork
Feb. 8, 2016
Basalt water case could affect state’s pot industry
Feb. 29, 2016
Colorado water officials discuss statewide tap fee
March 14, 2016
East slope water officials join West Slope water study
March 15, 2016
Water from Ruedi to again be released for endangered fish
March 21, 2016
A sweet spot for fish water
April 11, 2016
Aspen’s deep well application draws interest in water court
April 17, 2016
Who owns the water in Ruedi Reservoir?
May 30, 2016
Keeping water in the Crystal River
June 14, 2016
Lost Man Creek finds its way back to Roaring Fork River
June 15, 2016
State looking to increase funding for water projects
Aug. 13, 2016
High Fryingpan water flows are vexing anglers
Aug. 18, 2016
Drought like 2000-2006 could empty Lake Powell
Sept. 14, 2016
Pitkin County closes Roaring Fork River in Basalt
Oct. 9, 2016
Eagle River through Camp Hale eyed for restoration*
Nov. 15, 2016
Clearing up Grand Lake, Colorado’s largest and deepest lake*
Nov. 22, 2016
CWCB approves $90 million loan for Windy Gap project
Dec. 7, 2016
West Slope water interests prevail at supreme court
Dec. 23, 2016
Opposition to Aspen’s Castle Creek dam rights rolls in
* Story written by Allen Best, otherwise written by Brent Gardner-Smith
Stories published by Aspen Journalism’s History Desk in 2016
Local freelance writer Tim Cooney investigated three aspects of Aspen’s past in 2016.
September 4, 2016
Boys of summer: baseball stoked the passions of early Aspen
Meetings, events, and seminars attended by Aspen Journalism reporters in 2016:
Below is a partial list of the over 50 water meetings, events, seminars, and tours that Gardner-Smith attended in 2016. The list does not include a number of local meetings. Reporter Allen Best covered two meetings in November while on assignment for Aspen Journalism. Those have an asterisk by them.
The meetings were held across the state, including in Pueblo, La Junta, Alamosa, Loveland, Greeley, Fort Collins, Denver, Steamboat, Craig, Meeker, Montrose, Gunnison, Avon, and Edwards.
2016 meetings list:
South Platte Basin Roundtable, Jan. 12
Arkansas Basin Roundtable, Jan. 13
Metro Basin Roundtable, Jan. 14
Colorado River District board meeting, Jan. 19 and 20
Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board, Jan. 21
Colorado Water Conservation Board, Jan. 25 and 26
Colorado Water Congress, Jan. 27 and 28
South Platte Basin Roundtable, Feb. 9
Arkansas Basin Roundtable, Feb. 10
Metro Basin Roundtable, Feb. 11
South Platte Basin Roundtable, March 8
Arkansas Basin Roundtable, March 9
Arkansas Basin Roundtable, March 10
Colorado Water Conservation Board, March 16 and 17
Colorado Basin Roundtable, March 28
Gunnison Basin Roundtable, April 4
South Platte Basin Roundtable, April 12
Northern Water’s Spring Water Users’ Meeting, April 13
Colorado River Conservation District, April 19
Colorado Basin Roundtable executive committee, April 25
Crystal River master plan meeting, May 26
South Platte Basin BIP meeting, May 31
Arkansas Basin Roundtable, June 13
Colorado Foundation for Water Education tour, June 22
Western Water conference, June 22-24
Yampa/White/Green Basin Roundtable, July 13
Colorado River District, July 19
CWCB, July 20 -21
Colorado Basin Roundtable, July 25
Gunnison Basin Roundtable, Aug. 1
City of Aspen dam meeting, Aug. 4
Rio Grande Basin Roundtable, Aug. 9
Arkansas Basin Roundtable, Aug. 10
Colorado River District, Aug. 22
Colorado Water Congress, Aug. 23-25
Uncompahgre Water Forum, Sept. 1
Crystal River ditch tour, Sept. 2
Colorado Foundation for Water Education tour, Sept. 12
South Platte Basin Roundtable, Sept. 13
Yampa Basin Roundtable, Sept. 14
Colorado River District Forum, Sept. 16
Colorado Water Conservation Board, Sept. 20-22
Watershed sustainability conference, Oct. 11 – 12
Business of Water meeting, Oct. 13
Colorado River District meeting, Oct. 18
Colorado Basin Roundtable, Oct. 24
South Platte Basin Roundtable, Nov. 15*
Colorado Water Conservation Board, Nov. 16-17
Interbasin Compact Committee Meeting, Nov. 29*
Colorado Water Users Conference, Dec. 14-16
This list does not include other meetings in the Roaring Fork River valley of the Aspen City Council, the Pitkin board of County Commissioners, the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board, the Roaring Fork Watershed Collaborative, or other local entities.
Some of the organizations reported on by Aspen Journalism’s Water Desk in 2016 include:
City of Aspen
City of Colorado Springs
City of Glenwood Springs
Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board
Roaring Fork Conservancy
Division 5 Water Court in Glenwood Springs
Colorado River Water Conservancy District
Colorado Springs Utilities
Northern Water Conservancy District
Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co.
Colorado Water Conservation Board
Front Range Water Council
Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program
Bureau of Reclamation
U.S. Forest Service
Reporting capacity in 2016: 1 FTE and about $10,000 in freelance reporting and editing capacity.
Number of stories published in 2016: approximately 60, mainly on water and rivers
Our reach, or, potential audience:
Our collaboration with the Aspen Daily News gave us our primary reach in 2016, Coyote Gulch helped us reach key water stakeholders, and our modest reach via our own website and social media channels continues to expand.
Here’s an analysis of our traffic on the following media platforms:
Aspen Journalism’s website: approximately 200 unique readers a day
Aspen Journalism’s Twitter feed: 1,047 followers, up from 833 in 2014
Aspen Journalism’s Facebook page: 396, up from 293 in 2014
Aspen Journalism stories in the Aspen Daily News: estimated 15,000 readers per story, at 60 stories, equals 900,000 potential reads.
Aspen Journalism stories on Coyote Gulch: This website that aggregates water articles draws about 5,000 visitors a day, mainly water professionals, including attorneys, engineers, and consultants.
Aspen Journalism interviews on public radio: Specific listening figures are not available, but Aspen Public Radio and KDNK Carbondale are typically the two most-listened to stations among college-educated residents of the Roaring Fork River valley.
What changed for the better in 2016 in response to an Aspen Journalism story or project?
We can point to two primary areas where we believe our work had an impact: the conditional water rights held by the city of Aspen to build dams on upper Castle and Maroon creeks and the enforcement by the state of Colorado against the practice of over-diverting water from rivers.
We believe that Aspen Journalism’s reporting on the conditional water rights held for dams on Castle and Maroon creeks has spurred a robust local and statewide discussion about the city’s water rights and the potential dams.
By the deadline of Dec. 31, 10 parties – two governments, four environmental groups, and four private-property owners – filed statements of opposition in water court against the city’s application to extend its conditional water rights for the two reservoirs.
The city of Aspen announced in January that is beginning a community-based water-supply planning process, and it signed a number of contracts in the last two months to investigate its water supply needs and aspects of the two potential dams and reservoirs.
See, “City of Aspen launches ‘community-based’ study of water demands and storage options,” Feb. 3, 2016
State enforcement of wasting water
Aspen Journalism did two stories on wasting water.
The first story, “Don’t take more than you need: wrangling wasted water on the Western Slope,” may be the organization’s strongest story of the year. The story focused on the enforcement efforts of Erin Light, the division engineer in the Yampa and White river basins. It had an impact and sparked a lot of discussion.
The second story, “Colorado’s water engineer discusses wasting of state’s ‘precious resource,’” served as something of a confirmation of the first story.
Both stories put a bright light on the practice of managing water under the “use it or lose it” paradigm.
One direct change that was the result of our reporting is that Light was given a better seat at the Yampa/White/Green basin roundtable. The division engineer is not technically a member of the roundtable, but a liaison. And Light did not typically offer a regular report of her work managing water rights. But after our story, she was put on the agenda and now delivers a regular report.
It might seem a small change, but Light has said that overdiverting is common in both the Yampa and the White river basins, and her reports may well keep the issue at a higher level on the roundtable’s agenda.
Aspen Journalism’s 2016 operations
Donors in 2016 (thank you!):
Aspen Business Center Foundation
Walton Family Foundation
Revenue in 2016: Approximately $160,000
Expense in 2016: Approximately $145,000
Revenue over six years, 2011 through 2016: Approximately $742,000, or about $124,000 per year.
Aspen Journalism established a Publisher’s Circle in 2016. Each of the founding members below have committed to contributing $1,000 annually in support of the publication of investigative and in-depth journalism.
Aspen Journalism board of directors
Tim McFlynn, chair
Tim is the executive director of Public Counsel of the Rockies, the chair of Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Board, and a Manaus Fund board member.
Edgar is an Emmy-winning cameraman and director of photography at Wildwood Films in Aspen. Edgar has 40 years of experience filming in mountainous and remote locations.
Mark is a writer, filmmaker, and photographer. He is the author of “The NOLS Wilderness Guide” and the producer and director of the documentary “A Land Out of Time.” Mark is the current president of the board of EcoFlight and has served on the board of High Country News, the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, and Public Counsel of the Rockies.
Michael is an Aspen-based investment adviser, the former co-publisher of The Aspen Times, and a Manaus Fund board member.
Harry is the founder and principal designer at Harry Teague Architects. He has lived in the Aspen area since 1972, when he received his M. Arch. from the Yale School of Architecture. Teague’s work, which includes the Benedict Music Tent in Aspen, has been widely recognized and appreciated.
Journalism advisory board
Roger Adams, former news director, Aspen Public Radio
Dave Danforth, owner and staff mascot, Aspen Daily News
Charles Davis, dean, Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Georgia
Charles Firestone, executive director, Aspen Institute Communications & Society Program
Laura Frank, executive director, Rocky Mountain Investigative News Network, and vice president of news, Rocky Mountain PBS
Sarah Gilman, contributing editor, High Country News
Rem Rieder, editor at large and media columnist, USA Today
Curtis Robinson, co-founder, Roaring Fork Sunday, former editor, Aspen Daily News
Steve Skinner, columnist, Aspen Daily News, former general manager, KDNK
Andy Stone, columnist, former editor, The Aspen Times
Mike Webb, vice president, BerlinRosen