A detail of a map showing the location of a potential dam forming the Castle Creek Reservoir, with underlying property owners. The map was prepared with information based on a map the city filed with the state in 1965. Credit: Source: Aspen Journalism

ASPEN – The owner of a $12 million property in the Castle Creek valley where the city of Aspen says it intends to build a 170-foot-tall dam filed a statement of opposition in water court Tuesday in response to the city’s effort to maintain its conditional water rights for the Castle Creek Reservoir project.

The property owner since 2008 is Double R Creek Ltd., an entity controlled by Robert Y. C. Ho, a member of a prominent Hong Kong family, which paid $6.6 million for the land. Ho is chairman of the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation.

About half of the dam would sit on a parcel of private land owned by Double R Creek, according to information on a map filed by the city with the state in 1965 and signed by Aspen’s mayor at the time, Harald Pabst.

The water rights for both the Castle and Maroon reservoirs were adjudicated in 1971. As such they are considered junior water rights in Colorado.

The dam, as depicted by the city’s map would be approximately 1,220 feet wide, from side to side, or almost a quarter-mile wide across the valley.

On Oct. 10, the Aspen City Council unanimously approved a resolution to file a due diligence application for the Castle and Maroon creek reservoirs, which said “the City is obligated and intends to provide a legal and reliable water supply and to that end can and will develop all necessary water rights, including but not limited to, Maroon Creek Reservoir and Castle Creek Reservoir.”

The statement of opposition filed on behalf of Double R Creek, Ltd., by veteran local water attorney Kevin Patrick, was brief. But it did say, “opposer owns property, vested water rights and decreed conditional water rights which may be injured if the court approves the application as filed.”

(In 2012, Aspen Journalism contracted with the Pitkin County GIS department to make an updated map of the dam and reservoir location, based on the 1965 map, and with property parcels added. In 2016, Wilderness Workshop created illustrative maps, also based on the city’s 1965 map.)

A detail of a map of the potential Castle Creek Reservoir, prepared by Wilderness Workshop and based on a map filed by the city with the state in 1965. The dam would be 170 feet tall and span 1,220 feet across the valley.

Environmental groups file

Wilderness Workshop of Carbondale and Western Resource Advocates of Boulder also filed statements of opposition in the city’s Castle Creek Reservoir case, which is being reviewed in Division 5 Water Court in Glenwood Springs. The organizations also each filed statements in the twin cases concerning water rights for Maroon Creek Reservoir.

Staff attorneys at Western Resource Advocates prepared the statements of opposition for both Wilderness Workshop and for Western Resource Advocates, and both statements in both cases were nearly identical.

The city of Aspen “must satisfy its burden of demonstrating a ‘substantial probability’ that it ‘can and will put the conditionally appropriated water to beneficial use within a reasonable period of time,’” the statements all say.

(Please see Wilderness Workshop statements on Castle and Maroon, and Western Resource Advocates statements on Castle and Maroon.)

A topographic map showing the location of the potential Castle Creek Reservoir, downstream of Ashcroft. The map was submitted by the city of Aspen as part of its Oct. 31, 2016, diligence filing. Credit: City of Aspen/Div. 5 Water Court

Navratilova lot split

The other half of the potential Castle Creek dam would be located on property owned by ASP Properties, LLC, a California LLC. The county assessor values the property as being worth $10.4 million. ASP has not filed a statement of opposition in either case.

Both properties under the city’s Castle Creek dam site bear the legal description of “Navratilova lot split,” and the property owned by ASP Properties, across Castle Creek Road from the Double R Creek property, was the site of the former home of tennis champion Martina Navratilova.

The Castle Creek dam, as envisioned by the city, would sit astride not just the main stem of Castle Creek, but across the bottom of the Castle Creek valley. The dam site is two miles downstream of the Ashcroft historic town site and just upstream of the Mount Hayden trailhead.

One of the many small ponds that dot the portion of the Castle Creek valley that would be flooded by the Castle Creek Reservoir. The city has told two landowners it will reduce the size of the potential reservoir so as not to flood their properties, which are at the upper end of the reservoir. Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Other landowners

The reservoir behind the dam would contain 9,062 acre-feet of water, or about a tenth as much as Ruedi Reservoir.

In addition to flooding private property, a small portion of the pool would inundate portions of public property owned by the U.S. Forest Service within the boundary of the Snowmass-Maroon Bells Wilderness.

Since 2010 the city has signed agreements with two other private property owners whose lands would be flooded by the Castle Creek Reservoir. The city agreed not to flood portions of land owned by Simon Pinniger and by Mark and Karen Hedstrom, on the upstream edge of the potential reservoir.

“It is expected that this commitment by Aspen will result in a reduction in the volume and surface area of the Castle Creek Reservoir, and Aspen has contracted for a preliminary investigation of the anticipated revised size and volume of the Castle Creek Reservoir,” the city’s due diligence application from Oct. 31 states.

The city also told the state in its application that both the Maroon and Castle Creek reservoirs are considered “part of Aspen’s integrated water supply system” and are “part of Aspen’s long-range plan to maintain a reliable water supply to meet current and future demand.”

The city has never completed a feasibility study of either reservoir, but argues that “when an integrated system is composed of several features, as is the case here, work on one feature of the system is considered in finding that reasonable diligence has been shown in the development of water rights for all features of the entire system.”

Also expected to file statements of opposition in the two cases are Pitkin County, U.S. Forest Service, American Rivers, and several other parties. The deadline to do so is Dec. 31.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. The Daily News published a version of this story on Friday, Dec. 23, 2016.

Brent Gardner-Smith

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...