Aspen City Council tonight will consider entering into a water contract with the federal Bureau of Reclamation that could bolster the prospects of two potential dams being built someday on upper Castle and Maroon creeks.
The Dec. 3 meeting is a follow-up to a meeting on Nov. 26, where council members and water department officials discussed the option to contract for 400 acre-feet of Ruedi water for augmentation purposes.
The $511,000 contract is seen by city officials as a way to help protect the city’s future diversion and storage projects from being called out by downstream water owners.
For example, if irrigators in Grand Junction with senior water rights on the Colorado River called for water from the Roaring Fork River watershed — including the city’s water — the city could ask Ruedi to release water instead and it would run down the Fryingpan to the Colorado River.
That way, the city would not have to drain the ponds it plans on its golf course and park lands to meet the demand. Or, according to city officials, they would not have to fully drain one or both of two potential reservoirs on upper Castle and Maroon creeks, should they be built in the future.
As such, the first meeting on the Ruedi water contract produced a brief, and rare, discussion of the potential for the city to build the dams on upper Castle and Maroon creeks.
The city has quietly renewed the water rights for the two reservoirs eight times since they were decreed in 1971.
Today the city maintains two small diversion dams on both lower Castle and Maroon creeks. They send water into pipes and then to the city’s water plant at the tiny Thomas Reservoir above Aspen Valley Hospital. Those dams only divert water, and do not store it.
At the Nov. 26 council meeting, Overeynder told the council that climate change is shifting runoff patterns and the spring melt is coming earlier than it used to, which means there could be less water for municipal uses in the late fall and winter.
“That will change your need for water and therefore the need for new projects,” Overeynder said. “And this would be the last priority, and the absolute last thing we would do, would be to construct reservoirs on Castle and Maroon creeks.”
While Overeynder stressed that the reservoirs are only a last resort, he is recommending that the city take steps to secure the potential for the dams to be built someday.
On the Crystal River, Pitkin County, American Rivers and other groups are suing the West Divide Water Conservancy District and the Colorado River District in an effort to force them to abandon conditional water rights that would allow for a dam on the upper Crystal at Placita.
To date, there has been no organized opposition against the city’s conditional water rights tied to dams on upper Castle and Maroon creeks. The rights were extended for another six years in 2010 by a judge in water court after the city reached an agreement with a private landowner on Castle Creek not to flood their property.
More info requested
At the City Council meeting on Nov. 26, there was little discussion among the five council members about the idea of someday building two large dams, although council member Adam Frisch said the public might want more information about them.
Frisch suggested that there should be more community dialogue about the city’s long-term water plans, the dams and why the city thinks they might be necessary in the face of climate change.
“ … I think fleshing that out, so to speak, would be helpful for us and the public to understand that if we don’t do this there are some other options that might have to happen,” Frisch said. “ … If we have peak runoff in March, that’s not a small thing … to have happen here — to switch from June to March.”
At today’s meeting, which starts at 4 p.m., the council is scheduled to discuss the contract for Ruedi water, but it is not clear if council members will discuss its ties to the two potential dams.
Aspen, along with 17 other entities, including the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District, are in the early stages of agreeing to contract for water stored in Ruedi.
The Bureau of Reclamation is selling 19,585 acre-feet of water in order to pay off a remaining $34 million debt on the reservoir, which was built in 1968.
Editor’s note: This story was published in collaboration with the Aspen Daily News, which published the story on Monday, Dec. 3.
The Daily News covered the Aspen City Council meeting on Dec. 3 and published a follow-up story on Dec. 4, 2012.
For more information, please see “City maintains rights for dams on Castle and Maroon creeks” on Aspen Journalism.