Aspen City Council reviews report about using network of tunnels and adits as storage

Smuggler Mine back in the day via GregRulon.com

From The Aspen Daily News (Curtis Wackerle):

Building concrete bulkheads in 130-year-old mine tunnels and stopes that connect Aspen and Smuggler mountains underneath town could form storage vaults capable of holding between 1,000 and 2,000 acre feet of water, according to a report from Deere and Ault Consultants of Longmont, presented in a work session to Aspen City Council last week.

The report listed pros and cons of using underground mines, which are an alternative approach to water storage the city is investigating as it looks for options other than 150-plus-foot tall dams creating reservoirs on upper Castle and Maroon creeks. Council also heard a presentation on Monday from Deere and Ault about a preliminary review of “in situ” storage — meaning in lined storage vaults underground where water mixes with gravel and is then covered. The golf course was identified as a site that could lend itself to such a reservoir, the consultants told council.

Deere and Ault’s review of underground mine storage, resulting in a 20-page report, found that the pros of using Aspen’s underground mines for storage — such as proximity to water rights and infrastructure, usefulness as drought hedging and good baseline water quality — to be outweighed by the potential cons.

“Maintaining dominion and control” of stored underground water is first among those concerns, according to consultants. Even with a complex system of bulkheads at virtually every level in the mines, “water could still potentially leak out through the natural faults, shear zones and fracture zones,” the report says.

Constructing the vaults would be hazardous, since water that collects naturally in the tunnels would have to be pumped out. When water is pumped out of old mines, “that’s when collapses occur,” Victor deWolfe, with Deere and Ault, told the council.

Raising the water table — hard to avoid with underground storage — also carries risk. It could create more surface landslides and exacerbates flooding issues. And while water occurring in the limestone layers has tested for good quality overall, raising it and lowering it above the water table could “exacerbate metal leeching and acidification.” That contaminated water could then leak into neighboring freshwater streams.

The city would also have to build an expensive pumping and pipeline system to connect the vaults to the water treatment plant near the hospital. New treatment techniques and infrastructure may also be needed to deal with alternative water storage method.

“We noted that there is no real precedence in Colorado for storing raw water in underground hard rock mines for municipal use,” the report says.

The consultants did envision a possible system, however, where water from the Salvation Ditch is used to fill the Molly Gibson Shaft. Or, bulkheads could be installed to raise water levels beneath Aspen Mountain, and the city could tap water flows coming out of the Durant Tunnel at the base of the mountain, where it owns a 3 cubic feet per second water right.

Aspen’s complex geology is well understood, the consultants note, and their study drew on maps showing the many rock layers and mine tunnels. The pond at the current Glory Hole Park, off Ute Avenue, formed in the mining era when alluvial soils were swallowed by a sinkhole, taking a locomotive and two boxcars with it.

Council members thanked the consultants for the report — the study, which included site visits, cost the city $15,000 — but showed little appetitive for pursuing the issue further. Councilman Bert Myrin said it’s crucial for the city to determine how much water it needs to store before it can make sense of options.

Deere and Ault will continue looking into the “in-situ” reservoir concept, which also could yield 1,000 or more acre feet of storage.

River management plan for upper Roaring Fork surfaces for public input — @AspenJournalism

A stream gage on the upper Roaring Fork River.

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

ASPEN – At the first public meeting this week about the emerging river management plan for the upper Roaring Fork River, Aspen officials wanted to ask people if, and where, they perceive the river to be struggling from factors such as diversion, development, pollution and recreation.

And while turnout was low on a cold and snowy Thursday, with only three members of the general public showing up, those who did go saw well-rendered maps of the Roaring Fork and its tributaries above the river’s confluence with Brush Creek, and were asked to place colored stickers on locations where they have noticed problems on the river.

The entire watershed above Brush Creek, which flows out of Snowmass Village and into the Roaring Fork River above Woody Creek, is being looked at in the study. That includes the main stem of the Roaring Fork River and its primary tributaries, Hunter, Maroon, Castle, Difficult, Lincoln and Lost Man creeks.

A map of the upper Roaring Fork River watershed, from the Brush Creek confluence to the Continental Divide.

Flow modification

The river management plan will look at threats to the river’s health, including “flow modification” from diversions of water into ditches and tunnels, such as in the headwaters near Independence Pass, on upper Hunter Creek, or on the Roaring Fork east of town.

Diversions from the Roaring Fork and its tributaries can frequently lead the section of river that flows through central Aspen to fall below 32 cubic feet per second, the minimum amount of water deemed by the state to be necessary to protect the environment to a reasonable degree.

“We’re doing this river management plan because of known issues on the Roaring Fork,” said April Long, an engineer and stormwater manager for the city, who is managing the project.

The reach of the Roaring Fork River through Aspen that often runs lower than the state-prescribed level of 32 cfs.
Low flows in the Roaring Fork River just above Rio Grande Park, in July 2012. City of Aspen officials say the Roaring Fork runs below environmentally-sound levels on this stretch about eight weeks of the year now.

Consultant team

The cost of the $200,000 plan is being split by the city and Pitkin County, which has concerns about the North Star area east of Aspen.

The contract was approved in June and a team of technical consultants has since been reviewing prior studies and developing new information about the upper Roaring Fork.

Seth Mason, the principal engineer at Lotic Hydrological of Carbondale, is the project manager, Greg Espegren is in charge of “river health evaluations” and Lee Rozaklis is overseeing “water rights and resource planning.”

Also on the team is Bill Miller, a river biologist who has worked extensively in the past for the city, whose firm is called Miller Ecological Consultants.

Consultants with CDR Associates and the Consensus Building Institute are managing stakeholder engagement.

Lincoln Creek between Grizzly Reservoir and the Roaring Fork River will be one reach studied by the river management plan.
Grizzly Reservoir on Lincoln Creek, well above its confluence with the Roaring Fork River. The reservoir briefly stores water before it is diverted under the Continental Divide.

Various stretches

The plan will focus on at least eight stretches of the river network, such as the Roaring Fork River between Lost Man Creek and Difficult Creek, and the stretch of Lincoln Creek between Grizzly Reservoir and the creek’s confluence with the Roaring Fork, just above the Grottos.

And that approach includes Castle and Maroon creeks, and the locations of the potential Castle Creek Reservoir and Maroon Creek Reservoir.

Long said the Roaring Fork River plan is on a separate track than the public process that city officials are preparing to soon roll out about storage alternatives for the city. But she said nothing is off the table for discussion.

“When we talk about water resources, we are at times talking about all of our water and all of our resources,” Long said. “We would be remiss in pulling anything off the table when we’re looking for solutions.”

The Maroon Creek valley, from the confluence of East and West Maroon creeks to the Roaring Fork RIver.
The site of the potential Maroon Creek Reservoir, just below the confluence of East and West Maroon creeks.

Recommendations coming

Ultimately the goal of the plan is to make recommendations that inform “future river-related projects,” “water development planning and approval processes,” and “management of water infrastructure,” according to material passed out at the meeting.

The Roaring Fork River management plan joins a growing number of stream management plans and integrated water management plans being developed in Colorado.

The 2015 Colorado Water Plan called for 80 percent of priority streams in the state to be covered by loosely defined “stream management plans,” which so far tend to be smaller versions of more common “watershed plans.”

Whatever they are called, such river plans have a technical component to them, often overseen by an informal technical advisory group, and a social component, often represented by a group of local stakeholders.

The technical advisory group for the Roaring Fork plan has been selected, according to Long, and is poised to meet for the first time May 23. The meeting is not open to the public.

Over a dozen entities have been invited to send a representative to the technical group, Long said, including officials from the city’s stormwater, parks and utilities departments and Pitkin County officials from its river and open space boards.

Also invited are representatives from the Roaring Fork Conservancy, Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, Salvation Ditch Co., Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., Ruedi Water and Power Authority, Colorado River District, Colorado Water Trust, Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service.

Long said representatives from Salvation Ditch Co. and Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. have agreed to serve on the technical advisory group.

She also said the city and county has decided against having a separate and distinct stakeholders group, as described in the approved proposal.

“There is a little bit of change in the scope, exactly, from that,” Long said. “Basically what we’re doing is having a back and forth between a technical advisory group and the public as stakeholders in the project.”

Long added, “We’re hoping that we have a broad technical advisory group so we can vet and deliver very viable and implementable options.”

Long plans to hold a second public meeting and has posted a survey, and the maps, on a city website. Aspen and Pitkin County expect to share draft actions and projects with the community this summer and present findings and recommendations to elected officials this winter.

A map of Hunter Creek showing the Fry-Ark project diversions on Midway, No Name and Hunter creeks.
A map of the Fry-Ark system. Aspen, and Hunter Creek, are shown in the lower left. Fryingpan-Arkansas Project western and upper eastern slope facilities.
A portion of the flow in Hunter Creek is diverted to the Front Range and to locations downvalley from Aspen.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating on coverage of water and rivers with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Vail Daily and the Summit Daily News. The Times published this story in its print version on Saturday, April 29, 2017.

Aspen councillors still set to dam Castle and Maroon creeks in the future

Aspen

From The Aspen Times (Rick Carroll):

An Aspen city councilman said this week he erred by voting in favor of potentially damming Castle and Maroon creeks, but he failed to persuade his fellow elected officials to rescind their unanimous decision from October.

Bert Myrin conceded that it was “my mistake” when he voted in favor of the city’s pursuit of preserving its water rights on the two pristine streams.

Myrin’s proposal, which was not on the council’s Monday meeting agenda and had not been formally noticed to the public, came eight days before the May 2 municipal elections.

Council members Art Daily and Ann Mullins are up for re-election and face four challengers. Mayor Steve Skadron is seeking re-election to his third and final two-year term. Lee Mulcahy is the challenger.

The dam issue has been one of the hot-button issues of the election season.

Candidates Ward Hauenstein and Torre, both of whom have Myrin’s public support, have been vocal in their opposition against the city preserving its water rights, as has Mulcahy. Council candidate Skippy Mesirow has expressed a desire to preserve the water rights but not dam the streams. And at a candidate forum last week, candidate Sue Tatem vowed to lay down in front of a bulldozer if and when construction on the reservoirs ever begins.

Others, however, have argued that candidates are capitalizing on an issue that has been overblown because the city has regularly extended its water rights for the two streams since 1971.

Those conditional water rights allow the potential for building a 9,062-acre-foot reservoir in Castle Creek Valley and 4,567-square-foot reservoir in Maroon Creek Valley.

The issue is now pending before the District 5 Water Court in Glenwood Springs, where several parties, including Pitkin County, have filed opposition to the city’s extension.

Elected officials and city officials also have maintained they must renew the water rights in preparation for 50 years from now when Aspen’s population could be nearly triple what it is today, as well as climate change’s impact on the water supply. Maroon and Castle creeks supply the city’s drinking water.

Aspen: Open House today to discuss Roaring Fork River health

Roaring Fork River back in the day

From Aspen Public Radio (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):

The Roaring Fork has been on Colorado’s impaired rivers list for five years, and the city of Aspen is working with Pitkin County to put together a plan to improve its health.

“This stretch of river through the city of Aspen is the most threatened stretch in the entire river,” said April Long, who heads up Aspen’s Clean River Program.

A variety of factors may be contributing to the Roaring Fork’s degrading health. Water is pulled out of the river through a transbasin diversion, and lawns have replaced natural river bank in many areas. Plus, stormwater from the city core contributes pollutants.

Long and the city of Aspen have been working for years on improved stormwater systems, and now staff is looking at other projects to improve water quality.

The city and county are working together to develop a river management plan, and Long said public involvement is critical. There will be an open house Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Old Powerhouse Property in Aspen.

Carbondale micro hydro project cruising to approval — @AspenJournalism

Micro-hydroelectric plant

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent:

On March 9 the town of Carbondale notified the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission it plans to install a micro hydropower turbine in a pipe leading to its municipal water treatment plant on Nettle Creek.

On March 13 FERC found that Carbondale’s project qualified for a quick review under the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013, which streamlined the permitting process for hydro projects of less than 5 megawatts.

And by April 27, if no one claims the project doesn’t qualify, the town can expect to get a letter from FERC saying the town does not need a license and can go ahead, at least as far is FERC is concerned.

At 28 kilowatts, Carbondale’s project is much smaller than the 5-megawatt limit in the efficiency act, it’s a new license using a nonfederal pipeline, and it complies with the Federal Power Act.

So far, FERC’s fine with it, and it’s received no objections from the public.

The project involves installing a “turbine/generating unit” in an existing 10-inch municipal pipeline, or “raw water intake line.”

The pipe is 1,800 feet long and transports about 1 cubic foot per second of water downhill from Nettle Creek to the city’s treatment plant. The plant is eight miles up the Crystal River valley on the lower slope of Mount Sopris.

The turbine would be built inside a vault installed in the pipeline, near the treatment plant. A short bypass system would allow water to be moved around the turbine for repairs and maintenance.

“It’s taking advantage of the water that is already going down that pipeline,” said Mark O’Meara, Carbondale’s utilities director. “We’re not going to increase it. We’re not going to be doing any additional diversion.”

O’Meara also said that since it’s a nonconsumptive use of water already running down a pipeline, the town did not have to change its existing municipal water rights to specifically add hydro as a use.

The turbine’s “installed capacity” of 28 kilowatts and its “estimated annual generating capacity” of 190,000 kilowatt-hours is about enough electricity to offset the amount of power used to run the water plant, O’Meara said.

According to Craig Cano, a media relations officer at FERC, the 28 kilowatt figure refers to how much power the turbine could produce at any moment.

“That’s real small,” Cano said, pointing out it’s 0.028 of a megawatt, while a typical baseload-generating power plant’s capacity is in the hundreds of megawatts.

The 190,000 kilowatt-hour figure refers to the total amount of energy produced over a year.

The resulting electricity would either be sent through the existing Holy Cross Energy system that today powers the plant, or perhaps be used directly in the plant, O’Meara said. The town would get credit from Holy Cross for hydropower sent out over the grid.

The project has been in the works since the 1990s, but it still has a long way to go.

On the list is an in-depth feasibility study considering design, engineering and cost. A 2012 estimate from engineering firm SGM put the cost at $180,000. O’Meara did not have an updated cost.

And since the water plant and pipeline are on U.S. Forest Service land, the agency also has jurisdiction over the project.

But O’Meara said after going to a recent workshop put on by the Colorado Energy Office, it seemed like the right time for the town to enter the streamlined FERC process and see how it goes.

It took only four days after receiving Carbondale’s “notice of intent” for FERC to issue its “notice of preliminary determination” that the project qualified for speedy review.

That notice, along with town’s initial notice, are on town’s website, on its utilities page.

Also on March 13, FERC opened two windows for parties to contest the qualifications of the project.

The first was a 30-day window to file a motion to intervene. By April 12, no one had.

The second was a 45-day window for less formal but still “contesting” comments to be made.

That window closes April 27, and as of April 13, FERC had received no comments.

“If no party contests staff’s initial determination that the project meets the criteria for a qualifying conduit hydropower facility within the 45-day public notice period,” FERC’s Cano said, “the facility is deemed to meet the criteria and FERC staff shortly thereafter will issue a letter notifying the filer that is project has met the criteria.”

If someone does file a comment contesting the project’s qualifications, FERC is supposed to then “promptly issue a written determination as to whether the facility meets the criteria,” Cano said.

Carbondale’s O’Meara said that as far as he knows, no one over the years has raised concerns about the project directly to the town.

Aspen Journalism is collaborating with the Post Independent, The Aspen Times, the Vail Daily and the Summit Daily News on coverage of water in the upper Colorado River basin. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

Glenwood Springs scores $200,000 from @EPA brownfield fund

Glenwood Springs via Wikipedia

From The Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

Glenwood was named as one of 19 recipients of an EPA Brownfield Area-Wide Planning Grant.

The grant will be used to develop a plan to revitalize so-called “brownfields” located in the area where the Colorado and Roaring Fork rivers come together, including the city’s 5-acre former sewer plant property that was decommissioned several years ago.

Also included in the planning area is the Colorado Department of Transportation 5-acre facility across Devereux Road from Two Rivers Park, and the 27.4-acre Holly Quarry site below the Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park that has been eyed by the Caverns owners for a hotel development.

The grant is intended to help the city create a strategy to tie together the confluence redevelopment, Two Rivers Park, the Sixth Street corridor master plan and the Seventh Street beautification project following the completion of the new Grand Avenue bridge…

Also participating in the planning process will be the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), the Glenwood Chamber Resort Association, the nonprofit Community Builders, Colorado Brownfields Partnership, Colorado Mountain College, GlenX and Super School, Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, and other stakeholders…

Finally, the EPA grant will also help the city carry out its plan to restore the Colorado River shoreline at Two Rivers Park. Plans include interpretive signs, gathering spaces and landscaping.

Basalt whitewater park good to go for #runoff season

Proposed Basalt whitewater park via the Aspen Daily News

From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

Construction is complete on the new whitewater park on the Roaring Fork River in Basalt. Now, just add water.

Two features that create a wave effect were added about one-quarter mile upstream from the confluence with the Fryingpan River.

The water level is still a bit too low in that stretch of the river for the features to be used. They will likely start drawing enthusiasts as the flow rises later this month, according to Jason Carey, an engineer with River Restoration of Carbondale, which designed the project…

There will be a lower volume of water flowing on the Roaring Fork River than on the Colorado, so Basalt’s whitewater park might appeal to users with a wider range of skills.

The two features were installed on a stretch of the river between Fishermen’s Park on the east and a string of riverside commercial development to the west. The features are across Two River Road from the entrance to the Elk Run subdivision.

Two concrete pilings were driven into the riverbed and capped with material that looks like rock. They are separated by about 150 feet.

Each of the structures creates a wave that water enthusiasts can play on. Each has a calmer pool just downstream. When construction started in September, officials said the upper feature will be more “radical” while the lower one would be gentler and accommodate more users with a broader range of skills.

MacArthur said kayakers will find both features alluring. The gentler feature also will attract stand-up paddlers, he said.

He anticipates use to start later this month and stretch into early fall.

Carey said a track hoe and other heavy machinery needed to build the project were out of the river by March 15, as required by a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit. A temporary dam was dismantled last month and water restored to the main channel. Water was diverted into a side channel for six months — when the flow was at its lowest.

Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams budgeted $770,000 for the project. The project also gives Pitkin County the ability to call for water in that stretch of river in certain circumstances. That will benefit a stretch of the river that usually has low flows during dry summers, county officials said during public meetings about the project.