@UtahDineBikeyah: This [Bears Ears] designation is both durable and defensible

utahdine-bikeyahbearsearssaltlaketribune

Here’s the release from Utah Diné Bikéyah:

Utah Dine Bikeyah, in collaboration with the five Tribes of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, is honored to learn that earlier today President Barack Obama designated Bears Ears National Monument—the first National Monument to celebrate Native American living cultural traditions.

UDB received word today that President Obama has exercised his Congressionally delegated authority under the Antiquities Act to permanently protect 1.35 million acres of the Bears Ears proposal in southeastern Utah. We welcome this proclamation.

President Obama’s action comes in response to the historic request of Native American people, led by the five Tribes of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition: Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, and the Ute Tribe of the Uinta Ouray Reservation. Thirty regional Tribes passed formal resolutions of support for Bears Ears National Monument, as did the National Congress of American Indians, representing more then 300 Tribes across the United States. In addition, more than 225,000 individuals wrote letters and signed petitions calling on President Obama to heed the call of sovereign tribal nations and designate America’s most significant unprotected cultural landscape as a National Monument.

Today’s victory marks the first time in history that Native American Tribes have called for and succeeded in protecting their sacred ancestral homelands through National Monument designation by a President of the United States of America. In this way, Bears Ears National Monument represents the first truly Native American National Monument in U.S. history.

Bears Ears National Monument is the result of years of grassroots community organizing by local Native American people and government-to-government leadership by sovereign tribal nations. Tribes have united in the effort to protect the 100,000+ archaeological and cultural sites within the Bears Ears region from rampant looting, grave-robbing and vandalism, while preventing further extractive development on lands that we rely on to this day for physical and spiritual sustenance. Monument designation ensures that future generations of all people will be able to return to Bears Ears for healing, renewal, prayer, and to visit the resting places of our ancestors, whose spirits are still very much alive in this landscape.

This designation is both durable and defensible, as it reflects the will of a majority of Utahns as well as the wish of peoples who have lived here since time immemorial. UDB and our allies applaud this action by President Obama, and we thank the Administration and agencies for collaborating with our sovereign tribal nations and listening to the voices of Native American people. We look forward to helping craft a land management plan for the first National Monument to be collaboratively managed by Tribes.

Our thanks go out to the tens of thousands of supporters who continue to stand with Bears Ears and what it means to all U.S. citizens. We thank President Obama for this courageous and historic act. And we give thanks to the Creator for this place of healing, which is now protected for current and future generations, forever.

Willie Grayeyes – UDB Board Chairman

“I am deeply delighted that the Bears Ears National Monument is now one of the nation’s greatest treasures for all people and future generations to enjoy. I would also like to express my appreciation to President Obama for hearing our voice and listening to the grassroots people, the unity of tribal governments, and all other supporters who stood by us on this powerful path to healing.”

Peterson Zah – Former Navajo Nation President

“On behalf of the Navajo Nation, we extend our deepest appreciation to President Obama and his administration for making the Bears Ears National Monument a reality. The President’s designation is a testament to the will of sovereign Indian nations, as well as the hard work of our people on the ground who worked tirelessly years ago leading up today. It was their vision, determination, and purpose rooted in our traditional ways that contributed greatly to today’s shared accomplishment. This is a dynamic National Monument ready for greatness. We have much to look forward to.”

Jonah Yellowman – UDB Board Member & spiritual advisor, Navajo medicine man

“Thank you great Creator. Thank you to all the supporters and for all the prayers that have been sent. Thank you everyone that stood by us for the land that we love.

This is history-making. The plants and the animals, all beings celebrate the protection of Bears Ears National Monument. Our ancestors are looking down upon us, grateful. It’s so important that we stay with our stories, our practices, and our ceremonial ways of being. We will continue the practices and teach our little ones. They will learn this land, our prayers, and our songs. There is hope out ahead for the younger generations.

Thank you, President Obama, for listening to our prayers and protecting our Bears Ears.”

Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk – Ute Mountain Ute tribal member & former tribal Councilwoman, former Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition Co-Chair

“We all share gratitude for the courage of President Obama embracing this moment to change history rather than than repeat history. We want to continue to see healing through better relationships and clear communication, with tribal entities recognized as sovereign voices. All of us, Native and non-Native, want to be solemn participants at the table as we strive for solutions. We have spoken about protecting what this place was to our ancestors, and we will continue to share that in preparation for the next seven generations.

Here’s a guest opinion from Tom Kenworthy writing in The High Country News. Here’s an excerpt:

At a state Capitol rally led by Republican Gov. Gary Herbert and Republican Sen. Mike Lee a few days before Christmas, a chorus of wailing warned against a “midnight monument” and executive overreach. Their criticism was to be expected, and now that the president has acted, what will likely follow is a serious assault on our public lands and the Antiquities Act itself, which authorizes presidents to protect federal lands as national monuments.

The Utah anti-monument crowd had continually mischaracterized the process that led to Obama’s decision, failing to acknowledge the broad public support the monument proposal enjoyed. The campaign for the Bears Ears designation was initiated and carried across the finish line by a coalition of Southwestern Native American tribes.

The tribes’ ancestral ties to the region, and their sorrow over the repeated desecration of its archaeology and sacred sites, give them unquestioned legitimacy and moral authority. The monument drive encompassed a long and open public dialogue that revealed a broad consensus that the lands in question needed conserving. The president’s signature came only after federal legislation failed to accomplish that conservation objective.

But no matter how a consensus grew supporting a monument designation, many Utah politicians argued that the president’s action to protect 1.35 million acres as a monument was an abuse of executive power. They also called it a land grab that trampled on the rights of San Juan County locals to use those federal lands — which belong to all Americans — however they saw fit.

That song has been sung in Utah for generations, even as big swaths of federal land — originally protected as monuments — evolved into national parks that have become cash cows in the state’s thriving recreation economy.

The same politicians who fulminate about the “mother of all land grabs,” go on national park tours to celebrate the more than $1 billion that Utah’s five national parks hoover into the economy each year. And they make sure the parks are celebrated on license plates, in tourist-wooing television ads, and a campaign trumpeting the “Mighty 5” national parks — Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon.

Somehow, these critics never get around to mentioning that four of those five parks started life as national monuments, created by “abusive” presidential authority.

Now that conservative Republicans — many of them hostile to protected public lands — have a hammerlock on Washington as powerful as the one they’ve long had on Utah’s capital, that song has a new verse. And it promises a concerted attack on the bedrock American ideal that federal lands should be managed in the public interest.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rep. Rob Bishop, whose campaign account is regularly blessed by the fossil fuel, mining and timber industries, has been warbling that tune in the ears of President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team. Bishop says he wants not only to neuter the Antiquities Act but also to undo existing national monuments, including Grand Staircase-Escalante. He would like to hand over these public lands to the states and private developers.

Bishop had a chance to broker a sensible truce in Utah’s long wilderness wars. More than three years ago, he kicked off what at first appeared to be serious talks with county governments, conservation groups and other stakeholders. But his long-awaited Public Lands Initiative turned out to be little more than a despoilers’ bill of rights that caved in to the demands of county commissioners. In Utah, these are likely to be the same folks whose idea of stewardship is bulldozing illegal roads across public lands. The bill went nowhere in the waning days of the last Congress.

#AnimasRiver: Colorado lawmakers press EPA to repay mine spill costs — KOAA

The Animas flows orange through Durango on Aug. 7, 2015, two days after the Gold King Mine spill. (Photo by Esm Cadiente www.terraprojectdiaries.com)
The Animas flows orange through Durango on Aug. 7, 2015, two days after the Gold King Mine spill. (Photo by Esm Cadiente http://www.terraprojectdiaries.com)

From the Associated Press via KOAA.com:

Two members of Colorado’s congressional delegation are pressing the Environmental Protection agency to fully reimburse state, local and tribal agencies for the cost of responding to a toxic mine waste spill triggered by the EPA.

Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton said Monday a law passed this month removed some of the obstacles the EPA cited in turning down $20.4 million in requests.

The EPA says it paid $4.5 million in claims but rejected the others, in some cases because the costs came after a cutoff date set by the agency. The EPA said it was following federal law.

An EPA-led crew inadvertently triggered the spill at the Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado while doing preliminary cleanup work in August 2015.

Rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah were polluted.

#Drought conditions improve for parts of Colorado — Kiowa County Press

Colorado Drought Monitor December 27, 2016.
Colorado Drought Monitor December 27, 2016.

From the Kiowa County Press (Chris Sorensen):

Nearly one-third of Colorado has seen drought conditions lifted over the past week.

Most of western Colorado has moved back into normal conditions as several storms brought heavy snow to the area recently. The northern mountains remain abnormally dry, however the snow water equivalent (SWE), as compared to the median for past years, is above 100 percent for the area. SWE is likely to vary substantially over the coming months.

For central and eastern Colorado, there was little change. Western Huerfano showed the most improvement, as moderate drought receded to abnormally dry conditions.

Conditions in southeast Colorado were otherwise unchanged, with the eastern half of Kiowa County and extreme southeast Baca County remaining in severe drought. The remainder of Kiowa County, along with all of Cheyenne, Otero, Crowley, and Pueblo Counties, and portions of Las Animas, Bent, Prowers, and Baca Counties were in moderate drought. The remainder of Baca, Prowers, Bent and Las Animas Counties are considered abnormally dry.

The SWE for the Arkansas drainage covering much of the southeast portion of the state currently stands at 98 percent of the median for this time of year. The statewide snow water equivalent stands at 106 percent as of December 21.

Colorado River Water Users Association Annual Conference recap

Lake Mead from Hoover Dam December 13, 2016.
Lake Mead from Hoover Dam December 13, 2016.

From HavasuNews.com (Sandra Dibble):

Water managers on both sides of the border say the accord [Minute 32x] will be crucial in spelling out how the U.S. and Mexico would take cuts when a shortage is declared on the river, a lifeline for some 40 million people in both countries.

The draft also contains provisions for continuing the restoration of wetlands in the Colorado River delta and extending agricultural water conservation programs in the Mexicali Valley, as well as allowing Mexico to continue storing water in Lake Mead.

The proposed agreement, known as a “minute,” is an extension of the 1944 U.S.-Mexico water treaty on the Colorado River that allots Mexico 1.5 million acre-feet annually — enough for up to 3 million households. The agreement would succeed an existing bilateral agreement, Minute 319, that is set to expire at the end of 2017.

“We’re trying to build on the trust that we had in Minute 319,” said Edward Drusina, who as head of the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) is the chief U.S. negotiator. The proposed minute “is good for the United States and good for Mexico, and we will do what we can to move it forward,” Drusina said in remarks delivered in Las Vegas this month at a conference organized by the Colorado River Water Users Assn.

Because many of the key players at the federal level are expected to leave office in January, there is rising uncertainty over how much support for such an agreement can be expected under future Trump appointees. Beyond that, some are fearful that the collaboration between the United States and Mexico on the issue could be tainted by the politically heated rhetoric that the new administration has brought to other bilateral issues with Mexico such as trade and immigration.

“This great example of binational cooperation should not be derailed by unrelated political issues,” said Anne Castle, a former assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of the Interior and now a senior scholar at the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment at the University of Colorado.

“The collaboration between the U.S. and Mexico on binational management of this river that we share is extraordinary, and that is something to be celebrated and continued and supported,” Castle said.

Members of Trump’s transition team did not respond to requests for comment.

While a shortage has never been declared on the river, water managers say this could happen as early as 2018 if the levels in Lake Mead continue to drop. Earlier this year, the reservoir fell to its lowest level since the construction of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s.

“These are two countries that badly need each other at a time of water shortage on the Colorado,” said Stephen Mumme, a political science professor at Colorado State University and an expert on water and environmental issues on the U.S.-Mexico border. With treaty rights to its water, “Mexico has a pretty good hand to play, but it wants to cooperate with the United States, and it needs the storage upstream,” Mumme said.

The talks between the United States and Mexico, which have been taking place since 2015, are being led by the IBWC and its Mexican counterpart, Comision Internacional de Limites y Aguas. “The minute will have the same basic sections as Minute 319 but will be updated appropriately,” said Sally Spener, foreign affairs officer for the IBWC.

Signed in 2012 in Coronado, Minute 319 involved unprecedented binational cooperation on the Colorado River and for the first time in the treaty’s history recognition of the environment as a water user.

Its provisions included a “pulse flow” of a large volume of Colorado River water during an eight-week period in 2014 delivered to wetlands in Mexico that have been getting little water due to diversion upstream for urban and agricultural users.

Another component of Minute 319 involved a collaboration among three U.S. water agencies — the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the Central Arizona Project and the Southern Nevada Water Authority — and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to pay $18 million for water conservation projects in Mexico.

In exchange, they were to receive 124,000 acre-feet of Mexican water being stored at Lake Mead.

“The value of working with Mexico is key,” said Bill Hasencamp, Colorado River Resources manager for the Metropolitan Water District. “If we’re not done by January, that doesn’t mean we still don’t have an agreement with Mexico. We want to make sure it’s done right rather than done fast.”

Approving the agreement before the end of January “is going to be a challenge, because we’re running up against the clock,” said Tina Shields, water department manager of the Imperial Irrigation District. “Obviously people are moving very quickly now.”

The Lower Colorado Basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada are working on their own drought contingency plan which must be approved before the water scarcity provisions in the binational agreement can be made effective.

The states’ agreement would parallel the binational water scarcity provision with Mexico under the new accord, so that if the lower basin states take cuts under their contingency plan, so would Mexico, said Tanya Trujillo, who is representing California in the bilateral talks.

Trujillo, executive director of the Colorado River Board of California, was doubtful that the provisions would be worked out.

Aspen claims Fry-Ark Project creates ‘obligation’ for Castle Creek Reservoir

Freddie Fisher in his 1954 Winterskol float. Fisher was a professional musician who ran a ramshackle fix-it shop and yard in Aspen and sent in a regular stream of witty letters to The Aspen Times. In the mid-1950s, the proposed Fryingpan-Arkansas project was being reviewed at the local, state and federal level, and Aspenites were concerned about the amount of water that would be diverted from the Roaring Fork River watershed, on top of the amount already being diverted by the Twin Lakes-Independence Pass project.
Freddie Fisher in his 1954 Winterskol float. Fisher was a professional musician who ran a ramshackle fix-it shop and yard in Aspen and sent in a regular stream of witty letters to The Aspen Times. In the mid-1950s, the proposed Fryingpan-Arkansas project was being reviewed at the local, state, and federal level, and Aspenites were concerned about the amount of water that would be diverted from the Roaring Fork River watershed, on top of the amount already being diverted by the Twin Lakes-Independence Pass project.

Editor’s note: The following is the fourth and final part in a series exploring the city of Aspen’s historic intent in filing for and maintaining conditional water rights for storage reservoirs on Castle and Maroon creeks.

By Brent Gardner-Smith, Aspen Journalism

ASPEN – The city of Aspen has said for decades that legislation approving the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project gives a certain status to the potential Castle Creek and Maroon Creek reservoirs.

However, it’s hard to discern just what that status is, and federal and regional water officials are dismissive of the city’s claims.

Built in the 1960s and early 1970s, the Fry-Ark Project is one of the larger transmountain diversion systems in Colorado. It diverts water from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River, including Hunter, Midway, and No Name creeks, along with large amounts of water from the many tributaries in the headwaters of the Fryingpan River.

In all, the project includes 16 diversion structures that direct an average of 57,000 acre-feet of water a year to the Boustead Tunnel, which runs under the Continental Divide. The gathered water then flows to Turquoise Reservoir near Leadville and into the Arkansas River basin, serving both Front Range cities and agriculture on the eastern plains.

A key component of the Fry-Ark Project is Ruedi Reservoir above Basalt, which was built in the early 1960s as “compensatory storage” for Western Slope water users. Water collected in Ruedi does not flow to the East Slope.

Plans to divert water from the Fryingpan River date back to the 1930s, but the Fry-Ark Project as largely configured today was the result of intensive planning efforts and discussions that took place throughout the 1950s and early 1960s.

Aspenites in the 1950s were well aware of the looming Fry-Ark Project, especially as the Twin Lakes-Independence Pass project, built in the 1930s, was already diverting large amounts of water off the top of the Roaring Fork River.

For example, in the 1954 Winterskol parade, local musician, letter-to-the-editor writer and junkyard operator Freddie Fisher created a witty float about the looming “rape of the Roaring Fork” that featured himself sitting in a bathtub-boat on skis while pondering the question, “Who pulled the plug?”

A detail of the cover of a 1975 EIS on the Fry-Ark Project that was prepared the Bureau of Reclamation.
A detail of the cover of a 1975 EIS on the Fry-Ark Project that was prepared by the Bureau of Reclamation.

In the legislation

As the city is often quick to point out, the federal Fry-Ark legislation does in fact state that a feasibility report on a reservoir on a “tributary of the Roaring Fork River” should be prepared by the Department of the Interior; and if such a reservoir made economic sense, then the feasibility report should be submitted to Congress for review.

“The secretary [of Interior] shall investigate and prepare a report on the feasibility of a replacement reservoir at or near the Ashcroft site on Castle Creek, a tributary of the Roaring Fork River above its confluence with the Fryingpan River with a capacity of approximately 5,000 acre-feet,” the authorizing legislation states, “but construction thereof shall not be commenced unless said report, which shall be submitted to the president and the Congress, demonstrates the feasibility of said reservoir and is approved by Congress.”

The city maintains that the language, “at or near the Ashcroft site on Castle Creek,” still pertains to the potential Castle Creek Reservoir two miles below Ashcroft.

The operating principles for the Fry-Ark Project, which were hashed out by both entities on both sides of the Continental Divide, also address Ashcroft Reservoir.

“The Ruedi Reservoir shall be constructed and maintained on the Fryingpan River above the town of Basalt with an active capacity of not less than 100,00 acre-feet,” the principles state. “In addition thereto and in order to offset adverse streamflow conditions on the Roaring Fork River above the town of Aspen which might occur as a result of the project enlargement of the Twin Lakes Reservoir, the Ashcroft Reservoir on Castle Creek, or some reservoir in lieu thereof, shall be constructed on the Roaring Fork drainage above Aspen to a capacity of approximately 5,000 acre-feet: Providing, however, That the Ashcroft Reservoir shall be constructed only if the Secretary of the Interior after appropriate study shall determine that its benefits exceed the costs … ”

It also further defines Ashcroft Reservoir by stating that “‘Ashcroft Reservoir’ means not only the reservoir contemplated for construction on Castle Creek, a tributary of the Roaring Fork River, but also, unless the context requires otherwise, any other reservoir that may be constructed in the Roaring Fork Basin above the town of Aspen in lieu of that reservoir.”

To better understand the city’s claim, it’s instructive to view the potential Castle Creek Reservoir as “son-of” Ashcroft Reservoir, which in turn is “son-of” Aspen Reservoir.

For much of the long planning stage of the Fry-Ark Project, it included an “Aspen Reservoir,” which would have stored 28,000 acre-feet of water behind a tall dam at the bottom of the North Star-Stillwater section of the Roaring Fork River, just east of Aspen.

However, opposition to the Aspen Reservoir, primarily from James H. Smith Jr., owner of the North Star Ranch in Aspen, eventually caused Ruedi Reservoir above Basalt to be built instead of Aspen Reservoir.

One of the reasons Aspen Reservoir was attractive to water planners at the time was that it could be used to fill in low flows in the Roaring Fork River below the Salvation Ditch, a large irrigation ditch that diverts water at Stillwater Drive, near the entrance to Mountain Valley.

The combination of the Salvation Ditch, the Independence Pass diversions from the 1930s, and the coming Fry-Ark diversions meant the Fork through Aspen would be often dropped to exceedingly low levels, which is often the case today. And so it was felt that a compensatory reservoir east of Aspen, above the Salvation Ditch, would help keep more water, and fish, in the river.

But opposition by Smith, who was well connected in Washington, D.C., having served as assistant secretary of the Navy for aviation, helped kill the idea of Aspen Reservoir.

In the wake of the decision to abandon Aspen Reservoir, local, state, and federal water officials agreed to include a mention of another potential reservoir, Ashcroft Reservoir, or an alternate nearby reservoir, in the authorizing legislation for the Fry-Ark Project, as something of a consolation prize for Aspen.

Ashcroft Reservoir was once envisioned to be formed by a 140-foot-tall dam near the Elk Mountain Lodge property that would back up 9,056.7 acre-feet of water behind it.

The water right tied to Ashcroft Reservoir was eventually cancelled for lack of adequate due diligence in the 1970s, but today the city of Aspen still considers Castle Creek Reservoir, which is designed to hold 9,062 acre feet, to be the legitimate offspring, at least in the context of the Fry-Ark Project, of Ashcroft Reservoir.

But officials at the Bureau of Reclamation, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, and the Southeastern Water Conservancy District all say that the language in the Fry-Ark approvals has no direct bearing today on either of the two potential reservoirs that Aspen says it still intends to build someday when necessary.

A large portion of the meadow in the North Star nature preserve east of Aspen was flooded in June 2015. The expanse of water offers a glimpse of what the long-planned Aspen Reservoir might have looked like.
A large portion of the meadow in the North Star nature preserve east of Aspen was flooded in June 2015. The expanse of water offers a glimpse of what the long-planned Aspen Reservoir might have looked like.

An ‘unmet obligation’

Officials at the city of Aspen, speaking on background, have characterized the tie to Fry-Ark Project as an “unmet obligation” to the city. The obligation, as the city sees it, is to at least prepare a feasibility study of a reservoir on a tributary of the Roaring Fork River.

That “obligation” has been referenced a number of different ways over the years by the city, including most recently on Oct. 10, 2016, when Aspen City Council unanimously approved a resolution declaring their intent to file a diligence application this year for the conditional water rights it holds tied to potential reservoirs on Castle and Maroon creeks.

“Whereas, when these water rights were appropriated, this reservoir storage was an important component of Aspen’s long term water supply plan, particularly since the Fryingpan-Arkansas project was proceeding without the originally planned compensatory storage reservoir on the upper Roaring Fork River,” the council’s 2016 resolution stated.

The city filed two diligence applications on Oct. 31, one for Castle Creek Reservoir and one for Maroon Creek Reservoir. As of Wednesday afternoon, three environmental groups and three private landowners had filed statements of opposition in the cases, and Pitkin County, the U.S. Forest Service, and Trout Unlimited are expected to file statements by the end of the week.

American Rivers, Wilderness Workshop, and Western Resource Advocates have filed statements in both cases. In the Maroon Creek case, Roaring Fork Land and Cattle Co., which is controlled by billionaires Tom and Margot Pritzker, filed a statement. And in the Castle Creek case, Double R Creek Ltd and Asp Properties LLC filed statements. Double R Creek is controlled by Robert Y.C. Ho of Hong Kong and Asp Properties is controlled by Charles Somers, the CEO of SBM, a building services company located in McClellan, Calif.

Here’s how the city described the Fry-Ark relationship to the Division 5 Water Court in 2010, during the most recent diligence review of the water rights for the potential Castle Creek and Maroon Creek reservoirs:

“The Frying Pan-Arkansas Project, authorized by legislation dated August 16, 1962, authorized construction, operation and maintenance of a replacement reservoir on Castle Creek to furnish water required for protection of western Colorado water users,” states a proposed decree from the city’s water attorneys. “This reservoir was contemplated to have a capacity of 5,000 acre-feet, but this reservoir was never built.”

But not everyone agrees that the Fry-Ark legislation “authorized construction, operation and maintenance” of a reservoir on Castle Creek.

The city in 2010 also told the state there was a direct link between the Fry-Ark Project and its potential Castle Creek and Maroon Creek reservoirs.

“In 1965, taking precautions to ensure that its water rights were protected in the event the Frying Pan-Arkansas Project reservoir was in fact never built on Castle Creek, the city of Aspen filed applications seeking its own conditional water rights for storage on Castle Creek and Maroon Creek, i.e., the Castle Creek Reservoir and Maroon Creek Reservoir water rights for which diligence is sought herein,” the city’s 2010 diligence filing stated.

And in a 1990 water management plan, the city stated that “the authorizing act and operating principles of the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project require the Bureau of Reclamation to prepare a feasibility study on a reservoir of up to 5,000 acre feet, in order to offset adverse streamflow conditions in the Roaring Fork River above Aspen.”

But while a feasibility study may be called for in the Fry-Ark legislation, it is difficult to find anyone outside of the city of Aspen who thinks the call is still relevant.

The end of the tunnel that delivers water diverted from Hunter, Midway and No Name creeks as part of the Fry-Ark Project. The City of Aspen says their is a lingering unmet obligation in the Fry-Ark Project to study the potential Castle Creek Reservoir.
The end of the tunnel that delivers water diverted from Hunter, Midway, and No Name creeks as part of the Fry-Ark Project. The city of Aspen says there is a lingering unmet obligation in the Fry-Ark Project to study the potential Castle Creek Reservoir.

Ancient history?

Sterling Rech, a public affairs manager with the Bureau of Reclamation, recently said, in response to questions about the city’s claim, that the Fry-Ark legislation “requested an investigation but explicitly did not authorize Ashcroft Reservoir unless the report demonstrated feasibility and subsequently, Congress approved it. There is no record of that approval in Reclamation law.”

Rech was asked to double-check with senior Reclamation officials on the point, and after doing so, stood by his statement that the Fry-Ark Project “did not authorize” a reservoir in the Castle Creek valley.

Given that officials at Reclamation would be the ones within the Interior Department to prepare a feasibility study on Castle Creek Reservoir, this would seem to be relevant to the city’s position.

Jim Pokrandt, director of community affairs for the Colorado River District, said the mention of the Ashcroft Reservoir in the Fry-Ark legislation, or a nearby reservoir in lieu of it, “is ancient history versus current events.”

The River District played a key role in developing the operating principles that still guide the Fry-Ark Project. And it’s the entity that originally filed for the conditional water rights on Ashcroft Reservoir in 1959.

“Being mentioned and studied in the context of the Fry-Ark does not bestow anything special at this point in time,” Pokrandt said of the city’s claim.

Chris Woodka, the issues manager for the Southeastern Water Conservancy District, had a similar take. Southeastern was created explicitly to manage the water diverted by the Fry-Ark Project and was instrumental in shaping its authorizing documents.

But Woodka also dismissed any link between the potential Castle Creek Reservoir and the Fry-Ark Project.

“It really doesn’t have a direct connection anymore to the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project,” Woodka said.

However, city officials still beg to differ.

The outfall of the Bousted Tunnel, which delivers water from the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers to the East Slope.
The outfall of the Boustead Tunnel, which delivers water from the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers to the East Slope.

Feds still obligated?

Officials at the city say, on background, that it is clear that a reservoir on a tributary of the Roaring Fork — somewhere above Aspen — was included in the Fry-Ark authorizing legislation, and it was done so by none other than legendary West Slope Congressman Wayne Aspinall, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1949-1973.

And the city says that the obligation still remains for the Department of the Interior to conduct a feasibility study on such a reservoir.

City officials also point to a 2007 letter in regard to potential federal approval of new reservoirs in the Arkansas River basin to hold water diverted from the Fry-Ark project.

In that letter, the city and Pitkin County told the federal government that if it was going to study new reservoirs on the East Slope, it should also study reservoirs on the Western Slope, and by implication, the Ashcroft Reservoir or its successor, Castle Creek Reservoir.

“It is important that the Western Slope’s present and future water supply and storage requirements (for both consumptive and non-consumptive uses) be placed on a par with those of the Eastern Slope and included in all discussions on H.R. 1833,” the city and Pitkin County wrote in a letter to Congressman John Salazar in 2007 regarding pending legislation for the PSOP project, or Preferred Storage Options Plan. “Any feasibility study resulting from H.R. 1833 must address Western Colorado’s present and future regional water needs, not just investigate ways to mitigate impacts from an increase in trans-mountain diversions.”

According to city officials, the city felt it had leverage to ask for such a study because of the language regarding Ashcroft Reservoir in the Fry-Ark legislation. And that a study of Western Slope storage would have had to look at reservoirs such as Castle Creek Reservoir.

Be that as it may, the city’s claim of a lingering obligation in the Fry-Ark project is still out there, but with no clear resolution of how much standing it gives, or might someday give, the Castle and Maroon creek reservoirs.

One reason it is uncertain is that the city has never directly asked the Department of the Interior to produce a feasibility study on the Ashcroft Reservoir, or a successor, based on the obligation claimed by the city in the Fry-Ark legislation.

As such, the “unmet obligation,” if it exists, is still outstanding. And city officials say they’ll see what value it has at some point in the future.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Daily News, and Coyote Gulch are collaborating on the coverage of water and rivers. The Daily News published this story on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016.