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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.

Upper Lake Powell in October 2016.

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.

Freddie Fisher, in the the 1954 Winterskol parade in Aspen. Credit: Aspen Historical Society

Stories produced by Aspen Journalism’s Water Desk in 2016:

Jan. 30, 2016
Aspen to develop river management plan for upper Fork

Feb. 7, 2016
The big water game: state sees need for $14B worth of water projects

Feb. 8, 2016
Basalt water case could 
affect state’s pot industry

Feb. 16, 2016
Arkansas water managers want to talk more about transmountain diversions

Feb. 17, 2016
South Platte roundtable wants in on West Slope water study

Feb. 27, 2016
City of Aspen files for a water right tied to a deep new well

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
CWCB approves releases of 300 cfs from Ruedi Reservoir in 2016

March 21, 2016
A sweet spot for fish water

Gross Reservoir in the mountains to the southwest of Boulder. Denver Water hopes to increase the height of the dam 131 feet, to a new height of 471 feet, to store three times as much water, which it says will help it meet increasing demands and better weather severe droughts. Credit: Photo: Courtesy Denver Water

April 4, 2016
East Mesa Ditch owners open to leaving water in Crystal River

April 11, 2016
Aspen’s deep well application draws interest in water court

April 17, 2016
Who owns the water in Ruedi Reservoir?

April 20, 2016
Denver Water official says more West Slope water projects ‘not on our radar’

April 30, 2016
Glenwood Springs paddling toward whitewater parks, but rapids ahead

May 9, 2016
City considers 10-year agreement to 
leave more water in the Roaring Fork

May 30, 2016
Keeping water in the Crystal River

June 11, 2016
Flows in upper Roaring Fork River could double with curtailed diversions

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

June 17, 2016
Twin Lakes Tunnel closes, the Grottos erupts in whitewater

June 20, 2016
City of Aspen to discuss possible dams on Castle and Maroon creeks

June 30, 2016
Twin Lakes Tunnel opens for more transmountain diversions

A ditch in the Crystal River valley on Sept. 1, 2016. Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

July 4, 2016
Pitkin County awards contract for Basalt whitewater park

July 16, 2016
Denver Water distances itself from risk assessment of Ritschard Dam

July 24, 2016
Don’t take more than you need: wrangling wasted water on the Western Slope

July 30, 2016
Denver Water CEO calls for more flexibility in water management

Aug. 8, 2016
Opposition likely to Aspen’s Castle and Maroon water rights

Aug. 13, 2016
High Fryingpan water flows are vexing anglers

Aug. 18, 2016
Drought like 2000-2006 could empty Lake Powell

Sept. 2, 2016
Fryingpan flows 
to stay at 300 cfs for next two to four weeks

Sept. 4, 2016
Pitkin County to dam the Roaring Fork River in order to save it

Sept. 5, 2016
Glenwood Springs still facing challenge to water rights for new whitewater parks

Sept. 6, 2016
Colorado’s water engineer discusses wasting of state’s ‘precious resource’

Sept. 7, 2016
A hazy legal question lingers over water rights for Basalt marijuana facility

Sept. 14, 2016
Pitkin County closes Roaring Fork River in Basalt

Sept. 22, 2016
Opposition growing to Aspen’s conditional water rights for dams on Maroon and Castle creeks

The High Valley Farms marijuana cultivation facility near Basalt. The court has yet to rule on the question posed: Can a water right be issued specifically to grow pot when it is still illegal under federal law? Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Oct. 9, 2016
Choices are narrowing for water
 development along Eagle River*

Oct. 9, 2016
Eagle River through Camp Hale eyed for restoration*

Oct. 11, 2016
Aspen City Council poised to approve dam diligence filing

Oct 11, 2106
City of Aspen votes to maintain rights for dams on Maroon and Castle creeks

Oct. 30, 2016
Historic time line: Castle Creek Reservoir and Maroon Creek Reservoir

Oct. 31, 2016
Doing more with less water: Learning By Doing in Grand County*

Nov. 3, 2016
Aspen files diligence applications for dams and reservoirs

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

Nov. 22, 2016
Familiar protagonists raise concerns about new Western Slope water study*

Dec. 5, 2016
Maroon Creek Club water rights application opposed by city of Aspen and CWCB

Dec. 7, 2016
West Slope water interests prevail at supreme court

Dec. 21, 2016
Pitkin County votes to oppose Aspen’s conditional water rights

Dec. 23, 2016
Opposition to Aspen’s Castle Creek dam rights rolls in

Dec. 26, 2016
Rights for potential dams born inside Aspen City Hall in 1965

Dec. 27, 2016
Did the city of Aspen ever really intend to build dams and reservoirs?

Dec. 28, 2016
Castle Creek dam site dismissed in 1971 by the Bureau of Reclamation

Dec. 29
City claims Fry-Ark Project creates ‘obligation’ for Castle Creek Reservoir

* Story written by Allen Best, otherwise written by Brent Gardner-Smith

The Silver Queen Credit: Aspen Historical Society

Stories published by Aspen Journalism’s History Desk in 2016

Local freelance writer Tim Cooney investigated three aspects of Aspen’s past in 2016.

June 30, 2016
Portal into time: mine owner wants to preserve Aspen Mountain history

September 4, 2016
Boys of summer: baseball stoked the passions of early Aspen

Nov. 28, 2016
Finding the Silver Queen: the abundant manifestations of Aspen’s Victorian nickname

A map of Colorado showing the urban areas of the state in red.

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.

Well-tended fields along the White River west of Meeker irrigated by the Meeker Ditch. The ditch has been directed to divert less water at its headgate than it used to. Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Organizations covered

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
Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board
Roaring Fork Conservancy
Division 5 Water Court in Glenwood Springs
Colorado River Water Conservancy District
Aurora Water
Colorado Springs Utilities
Denver Water
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
American Rivers

A view from where a dam would stand to form the potential Maroon Creek Reservoir. Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism


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.

Will Roush, left, of Wilderness Workshop, and Ken Neubecker, right, of American Rivers, hold up tape on Sept. 7 showing where the base of a 155-foot-tall dam would be located on Maroon Creek if the city of Aspen were to build a reservoir tied to one of its conditional water rights. Wilderness Workshop and American Rivers were two of 10 parties that filed statements of opposition by Dec. 31, 2016, in two water rights cases the city is pursuing. Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

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.

See, “Ten parties file statements of opposition in Maroon Creek and Castle Creek reservoir cases,” Jan. 2, 2017

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

Erin Light, the Division 6 engineer, and a mule that greeted her as she checked on the amount of water in the Meeker Ditch on July 11. Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

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!):

Arches Foundation
Aspen Business Center Foundation
R.J. Gallagher
Margulf Foundation
Martens Foundation
Michael McVoy
Curtis Robinson
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.

The Benedict Building, home to Aspen Journalism.
Publisher’s Circle

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.

RJ Gallagher
Mark Harvey
Walter Isaacson
John McBride
Tim McFlynn
Michael McVoy
Curtis Robinson
Harry Teague

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 Boyles
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 Harvey
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 McVoy
Michael is an Aspen-based investment adviser, the former co-publisher of The Aspen Times, and a Manaus Fund board member.

Harry Teague
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.

Aspen, circa 1900. Credit: Courtesy of Aspen Historical Society
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

Brent Gardner-Smith, the founder of Aspen Journalism, and who served as AJ’s executive director until August 2021 and as editor from 2011-2020, is the news director at Aspen Public Radio. He's also been...