Aspen Journalism’s work since our last edition of The Roundup highlights something I’ve been thinking about regarding our structure of providing coverage under a series of “desks,” or focus areas.
Since AJ’s first story in spring of 2011, we’ve categorized our reporting using more than a dozen such desks. That list has included wealth and property, Snowmass, land use, education, skiing and, of course, the Aspen desk. Since I joined AJ in 2020, we’ve categorized our reporting under a five-desk structure: water, environment, social justice, data and history. Formulating this is driven by a combination of the generous donors who support coverage under a given focus area, as well as the talents of the staff we have assembled.
I’ve come to think that so much of what we find fascinating is a water, environment or justice issue. Oftentimes the good stories speak to a combination of those elements, perhaps all three, and it’s interesting to consider how they relate to one another. As a thought experiment, try to think of a good story you’ve read lately that doesn’t in some way speak to at least one of those issues.
Amy Hadden Marsh’s March 27 piece, her third for Aspen Journalism on the Uinta Basin Railway, is a product of the Connie Harvey Environment Desk. Since early last year, Marsh has been digging into the UBR proposal for Aspen Journalism, providing expert coverage on the potential legal and environmental ramifications of the plan brought forward by rural Utah counties to build a new rail line connecting the Uinta Basin to the national rail network. Doing so would allow the potential quadrupling of production capacity in a place where nearly everything currently extracted must be trucked to Salt Lake City refineries that are at capacity due to air pollution concerns along the Wasatch Front.
Her UBR stories could also be considered as water coverage, since a primary concern raised by the plan is the potential impact of a derailment along tracks following the Colorado and Fraser rivers. Should the UBR be completed, risk would be elevated by the 26-fold increase in oil cars running from the Uinta Basin through Colorado on their way to southern refineries, Marsh has reported. (Some Uinta oil is currently shipped by rail after being trucked to existing railheads near Price, Utah.)
And given that her latest piece is about safety concerns raised by the small community of New Castle and how our politics reflect the moral and values-based questions surrounding climate change and energy development, I see it as reporting that concerns itself with a just society, which is what we’re talking about when we reference social justice.
Water Desk Editor Heather Sackett also crossed over to the social justice beat with an April 7 piece coming out of the Colorado General Assembly about a proposed bill that calls for the state to establish a water-quality-testing program for all mobile home parks in Colorado, with requirements to take action if problems are found. The legislation is co-sponsored by Rep. Elizabeth Velasco, who was elected last year to the House district encompassing the Aspen-to-Parachute region, where one estimate put the number of mobile-home-park residents as high as 20,000. Supporters, including Voces Unidas de las Montanas, point to an ongoing legacy of water quality issues in mobile home parks primarily serving low income communities and people of color.
On March 31, Sackett wrote a piece about the limited transparency around the applications an interstate water commission is reviewing for a federal program that would pay Colorado basin water users to conserve. This also has a justice component, at least if you ask those who are concerned that criteria developed on the Western Slope to prevent excess dewatering of any particular basin might not be considered in the process. Meanwhile, we await a decision from the Upper Colorado River Commission on what proposals will be approved, with state and UCRC officials saying that more information on approved projects will be released once the deals are finalized.
I’m proud of this roundup of stories from the last few weeks because they’re examples of the type of in-depth public affairs coverage that distinguishes Aspen Journalism and speaks to issues that form a throughline connecting a community.
Thanks for taking the time to read this work, and for supporting its production. We couldn’t do it without you.
Editor and executive director
Bill aims to address water quality at mobile home parks
HB 1257 supported by Latino advocacy organizations
By Heather Sackett | April 7, 2023
Water quality in mobile home parks is an environmental-justice issue for the Latino community.
Little information released on conservation-program proposals
River District says it’s impossible to provide meaningful review
By Heather Sackett | March 31, 2023
In addition to redacting the applicants’ personal identifying information, nearly everything else has been blacked out as well: the location of the projects, such as which streams and ditches are involved; details of the water rights involved; and how much the applicants are asking to be paid for their water.
Garfield County commissioners defend Uinta Basin Railway against local opposition
Jankovsky: ‘You won’t see us in a lawsuit on that’
By Amy Hadden Marsh | March 27, 2023
In a February work session between the Garfield County BOCC and the New Castle Town Council, the town representatives expressed concerns about possible derailments due to an increase of oil trains and the speed at which trains roll through town.
Data Dashboard: Snowpack at lower elevation sites just shy of records
Air temperatures keep swinging. Aspen recorded two days of “moderate” air quality last week.
By Laurine Lassalle | April 12, 2023
• Snowpack at McClure Pass recorded a SWE of 29.2 inches on April 9, or 196% of median. It’s the second highest snowpack recorded at this site for that day between 1991 and 2020.
• Lake Powell’s water levels dropped to 3,520.4 feet or 4.6 feet below target elevation.
• Aspen recorded two days with “moderate” air quality last week.
Data dashboard: Winter occupancy lagging behind last year
Roaring Fork basin snowpack reaches 146% of median; 182% at McClure Pass
By Laurine Lassalle | April 5, 2023
• Aspen and Snowmass, combined, recorded 75.8% paid occupancy in February. That’s down from last year’s 78.5%.
• Snowpack at Ivanhoe reached 17.6 inches of snow-water equivalent, or 130.4% of median on April 2. That’s above the median seasonal peak of 17.2 inches.
• Lake Powell’s elevation is still hovering around 3,522 feet, or three feet below target elevation.
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