Why is the Crystal River significant and what would happen if it dried up? LOCC students look into the importance of this river to the people of Carbondale. This film was made by students in Carbondale, Colorado during summer 2018.
The Snowmass Water and Sanitation District is seeking a new water right to divert as much as 500 acre-feet of water a year from the Roaring Fork River as backup in case something happens to its primary water sources on East Snowmass Creek and Snowmass Creek.
Under the proposed right, the district could divert, at a point just downstream from Jaffee Park, as much as 9 cubic feet per second of water from the Roaring Fork and pump it up to Snowmass Village via a roughly 6-mile pipeline running along the Brush Creek valley.
The district calls the project the “Roaring Fork intake pipeline.”
“This is an insurance policy for the district,” district manager Kit Hamby said.
The district, whose service area includes the town of Snowmass Village, filed an application for the water right in Division 5 water court in Glenwood Springs on Dec. 31, 2017.
The proposed diversion point will allow the district to capture and reuse water that has flowed down Brush Creek from the district’s wastewater-treatment plant on the Snowmass golf course.
The diversion would deliver water from the river to a pumphouse located “river right” a few hundred yards below the put-in for the popular Toothache run on the Roaring Fork and about a mile above Woody Creek’s post office.
The project’s initial pump station would be built on what is now private land, and the pipeline would come up along the river, cross it and then head up the Brush Creek valley, where other pump stations would be used to move the water.
The Roaring Fork water would be sent either to the district’s wastewater-treatment plant, which sits under the Village Express chairlift at the Snowmass Ski Area, or to Ziegler Reservoir, which holds 252 acre-feet of water.
From Ziegler, which sits on the divide between the Snowmass Creek and the Brush Creek basins, the district can gravity-feed the water to the rest of its system.
“This is a project that probably won’t happen for years, maybe even decades, and it may never happen,” Hamby said, noting it’s in the category of “long-term resiliency planning.”
“We’d have to have some catastrophic event in Snowmass Creek to move forward with this,” he said, referencing a drought, landslide or wildfire. “If we were to lose that source of water, we’d need to go to another source of water, and we wouldn’t want that source of water to be in Snowmass Creek.”
Hamby said there is no current cost estimate on the project.
Given the project’s long-range nature, he said, “In today’s dollars, (an estimate is) just about meaningless.”
The Colorado Water Conservation Board, which filed a statement of opposition in the district’s water-court case, holds a series of “instream flow” rights in the Roaring Fork meant to leave water in the river to benefit the environment.
The state agency’s rights include a 1985 right in the section between Maroon Creek and the Fryingpan River of 30 cfs from Oct. 1 to March 31 and 55 cfs from April 1 to Sept. 30, and Hamby said the district intends to honor those instream flow rights, and won’t divert if the river is too low.
The district also plans to use the 500 acre-feet of water it owns in Ruedi Reservoir, on the Fryingpan River above Basalt, as a backup supply water so that the new water right does not get “called,” or turned off, by senior downstream water rights on the Colorado River above Grand Junction.
If the senior water rights call out upstream junior water rights, instead of turning of the diversion into its new pipeline, the district would release the water it owns in Ruedi to flow down the Fryingpan through Basalt and onto the Colorado River.
The district has existing water rights to divert out of East Snowmass Creek as many as 5 cfs, which the district can gravity-feed down a pipeline to Ziegler Reservoir.
Hamby said about 96 percent of the water used daily in the resort town comes from the East Snowmass Creek diversion point, at a steady flow of about 2 cfs.
The district also has a right to divert as much as 6 cfs out of Snowmass Creek, just downstream from the Campground lift. It can then pump that water uphill to Ziegler.
Hamby said about 2 percent of the water used by the district now comes from Snowmass Creek, and most of that is used for snowmaking.
The Ziegler effect
Until 2013, the district provided water for snowmaking directly from Snowmass Creek, but a complex instream-flow right held by the CWCB limited the amount of water available.
Now, the district provides water for snowmaking directly out of Ziegler Reservoir, buffering the creek and allowing the ski area’s snowmaking system to turn on and go all out.
Expansion of Ziegler Reservoir started in 2011, and was delayed when the bones,tusks and horns of prehistoric animals started emerging from the bottom of the reservoir during excavation. The reservoir started holding water in 2013. According to Hamby, Aspen Skiing Co. put $3.75 million into the project, which cost $10.7 million.
The district also has a right to divert .77 cfs of water out of West Fork Brush Creek, a tributary of Brush Creek that forms Garrett Gulch at the ski area.
Hamby says the project is not meant to simply allow the district to use more water or to allow the town of Snowmass to grow more than it has to date.
He said he’s proud the district has driven down the amount of water used by it and town residents, adding that Roaring Fork water is truly seen as backup.
In 2002, the district was annually providing 660 million gallons, or 2,025 acre-feet, of water. Today, the district is annually providing 425 million gallons, or 1,304 acre-feet.
Hamby credits the reductions to the district’s aggressive leak-detection and repair program and high-tech smart meters, which let homeowners closely track their indoor- and outdoor-water use.
A status conference in the ongoing water-court case is set for Jan. 3.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism collaborated on this story with the Snowmass Sun, which published the story on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2019.
Two projects to increase snowmaking on Aspen Mountain and the Snowmass Ski Area have received initial approvals from the U.S. Forest Service, but any potential effects of drawing more water from the local watershed for the additional snowmaking remain unclear.
Aspen Skiing Co. is planning to use an additional 82 acre-feet — 26.7 million gallons — of water per season as part of its two snowmaking expansion projects, with most of the water coming out of Castle, Maroon, Snowmass and East Snowmass creeks.
Aspen Mountain will use an additional 57 acre-feet of water per season for new snowmaking infrastructure on 53 acres near the summit to create reliable and consistent snow coverage, according to a hydrology report that Glenwood Springs-based Resource Engineering prepared for the U.S. Forest Service.
Snowmass will use an additional 25 acre-feet of water per season to cover 33 acres of terrain on the Lodgepole, Lunkerville and Adams Avenue trails, according to an environmental assessment by the Forest Service.
The additional 82 acre-feet of water combined from both the Aspen Mountain and Snowmass expansions will be on top of the 821 acre-feet that Skico currently uses on average each season across its four ski areas, bringing the total seasonal average to 903 acre-feet, according to Rich Burkley, Skico’s senior vice president of strategy and business development.
To put that much water into perspective, Wildcat Reservoir, visible from the Snowmass Ski Area, holds 1,100 acre-feet of water.
Burkley said snowmaking has historically been used to connect natural snowfall to the lifts and base areas. The company’s snowmaking philosophy, he said, is to limit it to the bare minimum needed to open the trails, host events and reach the end of the season. Mountain managers hope increased snowmaking will help avoid a repeat of the bare, rocky slopes of the early 2017-18 season.
“We don’t want to increase snowmaking, but we have to,” Burkley said. “Our snowmaking doesn’t go to the top of any of our mountains and we’ve always relied on natural snowfall to open the mountains. Bringing snowmaking to the summit of Aspen will help ensure a Thanksgiving opening. In a year like this, it wouldn’t be necessary, but it would have helped a bunch last season.”
Although there are fewer other water users pulling from local streams — outdoor irrigation season is over — when Skico fires up its snowmaking operations in November and December, it is using water during a time of year when streamflows are at some of their lowest points of the year. Despite a close read of two recent Forest Service environmental assessments on the snowmaking expansions, it is still not easy to determine exactly what might be the impact of drawing more water from Castle, Maroon, Snowmass and East Snowmass creeks, the four streams that provide most of the water for snowmaking at Skico’s four ski areas.
In June, Pitkin County submitted to the Forest Service a comment encouraging the agency to consider the impacts of increased snowmaking on stream health and the overall watershed, including the potential violation of state minimum instream-flow requirements on Castle and Maroon creeks.
“Ultimately, we’ve found that the range of change for peak flows and watershed yields associated with the snowmaking SkiCo is proposing are within the natural annual variability of water yield and peak flow,” he said.
But those assurances from the Forest Service may not be enough for some local river advocates, especially after a hot, dry year that saw some streamflows in the Roaring Fork basin plummet to all-time lows and the city of Aspen implement Stage 2 water restrictions for the first time in history.
Ken Neubecker, associate director of American Rivers’ Colorado Basin Program and a member of the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers Board, has concerns about taking more water out of the streams in winter. Although most of the snowpack makes it back into the river as spring runoff, that doesn’t help the winter aquatic environment, he said. Also, while snowmaking may not require as much water as other consumptive uses such as irrigation, those relatively small depletions add up.
“Twenty-five additional acre-feet taken out over the whole season is not much water, but again, what are the cumulative impacts?” Neubecker said, referring to the Snowmass project. “When are we going to reach the straw that breaks the camel’s back, especially in a dry year when there may only be 2 (cubic feet per second) running in the stream?”
Kate Hudson, a Pitkin County resident and professional environmental advocate focused on water, agrees. Hudson, who is also a member of the county’s streams board, said that because the two projects are being considered separately, it’s hard to measure what the overall impacts might be to the Roaring Fork watershed.
“It’s just one more cut of many, but one of the many that may ultimately tip the balance,” she said. “What we are seeing now globally and locally in our environment with water is death by 1,000 cuts.”
The Forest Service review did consider the total depletions of water in the Roaring Fork River watershed from the additional snowmaking, but found they were anticipated, and covered by, an environmental review previously conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on potential future diversions upstream of a key reach of the Colorado River near Grand Junction. The Roaring Fork flows into the Colorado in Glenwood Springs.
Aspen Mountain began making snow this season Nov. 1. Its primary snowmaking pump station, located at the base of the mountain, draws water from the city of Aspen’s treated municipal supply, which originates in Castle and Maroon creeks.
According to Burkley, Aspen Mountain uses an average of 199 acre-feet of water per season for snowmaking.
The new project would add about 57 acre-feet of diversions each season, for a total of 256 acre-feet, or 83 million gallons used for snowmaking on Aspen Mountain, according to figures supplied by Burkley.
While Skico has water rights for snowmaking uses from springs on the upper mountain, the hydrology reports says it is “expected that the water supply necessary to support the proposed snowmaking will also be provided by the city.”
In terms of overall impact, it’s important to note that not all of the water used for snowmaking is taken out of the watershed permanently. The snow acts as an on-mountain, frozen reservoir.
According to the hydrology report, about 74 percent of Aspen Mountain’s water used for snowmaking makes it back into the Roaring Fork River as spring runoff. The other 26 percent is lost to evaporation or sublimation or is sucked up by thirsty plants.
The environmental assessment from the Forest Service also warns about instream flows, which are water rights owned by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and are designed to keep water in the river to preserve natural ecosystems and fish health. The conservation board has 12 cfs of instream flow rights on the segment of Castle Creek where the City of Aspen’s diversion is located. The conservation board has 14 cfs of instream flow rights downstream from the city’s diversion on Maroon Creek.
Although streamflows in Maroon and Castle creeks are predicted to more than satisfy the three demands — snowmaking, municipal uses and instream flows — the study warns that snowmaking shortages are possible during drought conditions in the peak snowmaking month of December.
According to Margaret Medellin, utilities portfolio manager for the city of Aspen, the city will not divert if instream flows are threatened. The city has sensors on both its Maroon and Castle Creek headgates and employees manage them daily to preserve the minimum instream flows. For example, Medellin said the city shut down the Maroon Creek hydro facility last summer to protect the instream flows.
Streamflows, however, can be hard to verify. There is no public gauge on Castle Creek, and although there is a new U.S. Geological Survey gauge on Maroon Creek, the reading simply said “Ice” for several days in late December.
Snowmass currently uses an average of 383 acre-feet of water per season for snowmaking from the Snowmass Creek watershed.
The water is provided to Skico by the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District, which serves all of Snowmass Village and the ski area.
The district both diverts water from East Snowmass Creek, and also pumps water up from Snowmass Creek, to fill Zeigler Reservoir, which holds 252 acre-feet of water, according district manager to Kit Hamby.
The water is then sent to the ski area’s snowmaking system when it’s time to make snow. The reservoir, home to “Snomastadon,” was put into service in 2013 and provides a buffer from direct drawdowns from Snowmass Creek, where the conservation board also holds an instream flow right.
The ski area also uses another 46 acre-feet from a few ponds that start the season naturally charged.
Each season, the new project would draw an additional 25 acre-feet, or 8 million gallons, from the Snowmass Creek watershed.
As for Skico’s other two ski areas, Aspen Highlands 55 acre-feet a season on average from the city of Aspen’s municipal supply and Buttermilk uses an average of 184 acre-feet a season from Maroon Creek, according to Burkley. Including the new projects, the total seasonal-average use on all four mountains for snowmaking is expected to be 903 acre-feet of water.
Skico works hard to remain an industry leader in sustainability and the environment. Its “Give a Flake” campaign encourages skiers to take action on climate change.
Burkley admits any expansion of terrain or snowmaking contradicts the company’s sustainability message, but he adds that snowmaking is necessary. And last season’s dry and warm conditions brought to the forefront how crucial it is to have snowmaking at higher elevations.
“It definitely undercuts (the sustainability message),” Burkley said. “But we would not be in business without snowmaking so we try to minimize the impacts of it.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering rivers and water with The Aspen Times. The Times published this story on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2018.
From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Matt Annabel and Sara M. Dunn):
Sustainable agricultural production requires responsible stewardship and financial stability. Since 1976, Colorado has provided a mechanism for landowners to perpetually protect their lands and associated water rights, while enjoying financial benefits through the grant of a conservation easement. The landowner retains ownership of the property after a conservation easement is conveyed.
Conservation easements can be created only by a voluntary agreement between the landowner and a government entity or a charitable land trust created for that purpose. The landowner selects the governmental entity, such as Colorado Parks and Wildlife, or a land trust that best suits their goals, objectives and interests to hold the conservation easement. The Aspen Valley Land Trust and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust hold many conservation easements in our area.
Aspen Valley Land Trust was organized in 1967 and is the oldest land trust in Colorado. To date, AVLT has conserved over 41,000 acres that protect local agriculture, rivers, wildlife habitat, recreational access, and outdoor educational opportunities in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys. Roughly half of AVLT conserved lands lie within the greater Roaring Fork Valley, and half between Glenwood Springs and the Flat Tops north of De Beque.
The Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust was formed in 1995 to help Colorado’s ranchers and farmers protect their agricultural lands and encourage the intergenerational transfer of ranches and farms. CCALT focuses on agricultural easements and encourages traditional activities such as farming, grazing, hunting, fishing and recreation on the land.
The first step in conserving a property is identification of the property values that the landowner wants to preserve and the rights they are willing to relinquish in order to conserve the property. Landowners have flexibility in selecting which property rights they are willing to give up in exchange for a conservation easement.
In instances where farming and ranching are identified as the conservation values of a property, easements can be used as a tool to compensate landowners for tying their water resources to the land, defining stewardship obligations and permanently restricting development. This preserves the land for agricultural production while maintaining the scenic landscapes and wildlife habitat that draw recreation and tourism dollars to our communities.
When an easement is granted, the current use and management of the land is usually maintained resulting in very little impact on daily activities. Public access is not a requirement for conveying a conservation easement, although the property owner is required to grant the land trust access for monitoring visits.
Conservation easements are typically monitored on an annual basis and visits are coordinated with the landowner. The annual visit to the property is to ensure that the terms of the easement are being met, to continue to build relationships with the landowners, and to resolve stewardship issues that may arise.
Conservation easements can generate financial benefits for the landowners. Conservation easements are valued through an appraisal process which considers the value of the property without the conservation easement vs. the value of the property in its restricted state subject to the conservation easement. The difference between the two appraisal values is the conservation easement value which is used to calculate how much the landowner will be compensated for conserving their land.
Most conservation easements are donated, in which case the landowner is compensated through federal and state tax incentives. In some rare situations, grants may be available to compensate the landowner for a portion of the conservation value
A typical conservation easement takes approximately one year to complete. There are associated fees which vary greatly depending upon the circumstances. The fees cover a baseline inventory report, appraisals, title work, environmental assessments, mineral reports and the drafting of the legal documents necessary to create the conservation easement.
Landowners interested in more information on conservation easements can contact AVLT at http://www.avlt.org or 970-963-8440. The local Conservation Districts will be holding an Ag Expo on Feb. 2, 2019 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Garfield County Fair Grounds in Rifle where additional information regarding conservation easements can be obtained. Registration is required to attend the Expo. More details can be found at: http://www.bookcliffcd.org/.
Water Law Basics appears monthly in the Post Independent in cooperation with the area conservation districts. Matt Annabel is communications and outreach director for the Aspen Valley Land Trust, and Sara M. Dunn is district supervisor for the Bookcliff Conservation District.
A water court judge last week said the city of Aspen needed to supply more information to the court before he could find the city has met the legal standards for “diligence” and “need” concerning its conditional water-storage rights tied to potential reservoirs on upper Castle and Maroon creeks.
The judge’s request for more substance in the court record could be a setback for the city in its two ongoing diligence cases, which began in 2016, and are now being heard together as one case.
If that were to occur, the city would next file a change application in water court to move the rights from Castle and Maroon creeks to five other potential locations. All opposing parties in the cases have agreed not to fight the city’s effort to do so.
The potential reservoir locations, where the city says it will store as much as 8,500 acre-feet of water, are the city-owned golf course, the Maroon Creek Club’s golf course, the Cozy Point open space, the gravel pit in Woody Creek and a city-owned vacant land by the gravel pit.
During a public case-management conference Thursday with most of the water attorneys in the case, Boyd said he had reviewed the record and had concerns about several issues, including fundamental questions of diligence and need.
Boyd told the city’s water attorney, Cynthia Covell of Alperstein & Covell, that there wasn’t sufficient evidence in the court record for him to conclude that there was a “substantial probability that the project will ultimately reach fruition.”
He asked Covell to file with the court “either a supplemental factual record, a legal brief or just a new proposed decree, or any combination of those” by Jan. 18, if possible.
Asked after the conference call what she thought of the judge’s request, she said “I think the judge is being thoughtful and conscientious about this. I think he’s saying, ‘These are a couple of things that I would like to see more in the record on in order to sign off on this decree.’”
Boyd also asked the city to provide the court with its current long-range water-supply plan.
“In terms of filling in that factual record, there is a reference in the applications to Aspen’s long-range plan to maintain a reliable water supply, which at least invites the possible conclusion that there is a single document that is the plan, and if there is, it seems to me, perhaps it should be part of the record in this case,” Boyd said. “Or perhaps it is something other than a single document.”
Covell said the city’s water plan is in a series of documents.
The city first filed for the conditional water rights in 1965, informing the state it intended to build a 155-foot-tall dam on Maroon Creek that would store 4,567 acre-feet of water, and a 170-foot-tall dam on Castle Creek that would store 9,062 acre-feet of water.
The city obtained conditional decrees for the two reservoirs in 1971. Since then, it has submitted to the state periodic diligence applications, saying each time that it “can and will” someday build the two reservoirs, if necessary.
In current proposed decrees now in front of Boyd, the city is seeking a right to store 8,500 acre-feet in Castle Creek Reservoir, down from 9,062 acre-feet.
It’s also seeking a right to store the original 4,567 acre-feet in Maroon Creek Reservoir, even as it plans on moving both those rights, according to the settlement agreements, and forever walking away from the original locations.
In the settlement agreements, the city also has said it will seek to store no more than 8,500 acre-feet of water, in some configuration, at one or more of the five new locations.
The 8,500 acre-feet of water could come from both Castle and Maroon creeks, in some combination, or it could all come from Castle Creek.
On Thursday, Judge Boyd said he had questions about the city’s estimated storage needs.
“In terms of the obligation to show a need for the water — at least as I review the record — I have an engineering report that contemplates a need of 8,500 acre-feet of storage, which is, of course, the exact size proposed for one of the reservoirs, but the two reservoirs in combination total over 13,000 acre-feet,” Boyd said, “and there is nothing in the record to really explain why that’s an appropriate number for the court to approve, and I think I may need some record to support that.”
He also said the proposed decrees “are completely silent about that contemplated relocation of these reservoirs, and there is really no information in the record about the ability, under the ‘can and will’ doctrine, to put these reservoirs in the new locations that are suggested as possible alternatives,” Boyd said. “So I don’t know if I have any information, really, in the record for me to make the finding that as part of a diligence decree, or diligence burden of proof, of a substantial probability that the project will ultimately reach fruition, so it seems to me I may need some additional actual record to support that conclusion.”
Boyd also said it’s the first time he has seen a request such as the city’s, which involves moving conditional rights out of their original location, but only after first obtaining a diligence finding for the water rights in their original locations.
“If it goes forward at all, it will be in a different location,” he said, “and I think that needs to be articulated more clearly in the decree and, as well, give me enough information to conclude it meets the standards for reasonable diligence.”
The Castle and Maroon creek decrees have nearly identical terms, other than size. In fact, they’re often referred to as one decree.
It’s not the first time in the case that the state has asked the city to provide more information.
In a January 2017 “summary of consultation” between the division engineer and the water court’s so-called “referee,” the state said the city must show “a specific plan is in place to develop the subject water rights,” must demonstrate “substantiated population growth in order to justify the continued need for these water rights,” and must show it is “not speculating with the subject water rights.”
The city responded, but not in a way that satisfied the referee.
In August, more than a year and a half after the summary of consultation, the referee, Susan Ryan, sent the city’s two cases to Boyd for him to resolve.
She had noted that outstanding issues in both cases “will require water judge adjudication of the facts and/or rulings of law.”
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times. The Times published this story on Monday, Dec. 3, 2018.
State cloud seeding programs. Graphic credit: The Huffington Post
Cloud seeding ground station. Photo credit H2O Radio via the Colorado Independent.
Instumentation cloud seeding research Colorado.
Cloud-seeding graphic via Science Matters
FromAspen Public Radio (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):
The Colorado River District says adding to the snowpack is one way to address dwindling water supplies; a study in Wyoming showed that, when the conditions are right, cloud seeding can increase snowfall by 5 to 15 percent per storm. That translates to a slight increase in water supplies — a 1 to 5 percent increase in snowpack-derived water.
Dave Kanzer, an engineer with the River District, said more efficient storms with more snowfall can mean more water across the West.
“We’re not just talking about one county and one city,” Kanzer said. “We’re really talking about augmenting or increasing the water supply for 40 million people that rely on the Colorado River Basin.”
The River District has ongoing cloud seeding operations across Colorado, all along the Continental Divide, but not in Aspen and Pitkin County.
“We are proposing to fill in those areas upstream toward Independence Pass, to include all of the Ski Co properties, and all of the upper Roaring Fork Watershed,” Kanzer said.
He will present a proposal for a three-year cloud-seeding program to Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers Board at its meeting this Thursday. The River District has also been in talks with the City of Aspen and Aspen Skiing Company.
FromAspen Public Radio (Elizabeth Stewart-Severy):
Kanzer says the science is clear, but the process is not precise. A study conducted in Wyoming shows the conditions are only right in about 30 percent of storms, but when they are, cloud seeding can increase snowfall. That snowpack contributes to the water supply not just in the Roaring Fork Valley, but across the west.
“Even if we only increase the water supply by a small fraction, it can have wide ranging benefits,” Kanzer said, including more water in local rivers and more snow on the mountain.
The River District wants to see more cloud seeding activities in the Aspen area. On Thursday, the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers Board will hear a proposal from Kanzer about expanding cloud seeding activities. He also has met with City of Aspen water officials and Aspen Skiing Company.
Rich Burkley, vice president of mountain operations for SkiCo, said the company is interested in supporting the River District, but not as a business investment. The small increase in snowfall doesn’t translate to extra powder days for skiers and riders.
“A 10-inch storm going to a 10.5-inch storm, doesn’t really do too much,” Burkley said.
While cloud seeding might not be a boon for powder skiers, Burkley said SkiCo is supportive of any measures that might help the water supply. The company has offered to participate as a site for the generators and to help with manpower to operate them.
The River District is looking for funding from Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers Board and the City of Aspen; the proposal would then need a permit from the State of Colorado.