Aspen Skiing Co. expects normal snowmaking operations this season despite #drought

Aspen

From The Aspen Daily News (Chad Abraham):

Despite an unprecedented water restriction amid the ongoing drought affecting much of Colorado and the West, officials with the city of Aspen and Aspen Skiing Co. said the dry conditions should not impact the company’s ability to make snow at its four resorts…

SkiCo uses municipal water for snowmaking on Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands from the city’s 3-million-gallon reservoir up Castle Creek, water from Maroon Creek for Buttermilk, and water stored in Ziegler Reservoir for the Snowmass Ski Area. And communication between the city and the SkiCo is key, particularly now amid the drought.

Margaret Medellin, the city of Aspen’s portfolio utilities manager, said Friday that Thomas Reservoir doesn’t afford much storage for the city’s needs, and the municipality relies largely on direct flows from Maroon and Castle creeks. Still, “there are a lot of reasons why snowmaking is a water use that can be done even during this dry period,” she said.

That includes snowmaking mostly happening during November and early December, when water demand has lessened because of fewer residents, second-home owners and visitors; along with fewer times nowadays with temperatures suitable for making flakes.

In summertime, the largest use of city water, as much as 86 percent at times, goes to irrigation, but now “irrigation systems are starting to shut down, and we’re seeing the demand on the system dropping,” she said…

She also said that snowmaking overall is a pretty small use — annually less than 8 percent — of the city water supply.

“Having said that, we do constantly monitor our creeks,” Medellin said. “If SkiCo wanted to make snow, and it’s too close to in-stream flow [requirements], we’d communicate with them that they wouldn’t be able to make snow…

Katie Ertl, SkiCo’s senior vice president of mountain operations, said the drought and city water restrictions have “been on our minds,” and led to a recent, in-company meeting.

She agreed the health of the streams is paramount and echoed Medellin: “We’re putting snow on the hill when not a lot of water is being used.

“We recognize that we have a bit of time before now and then, and we’re hoping for the possibility of natural snow,” Ertl said. “We knew this conversation was going to come up with Stage 2 water restrictions. We’re paying attention to what the city requirements may be and will work in conjunction with them for Aspen Mountain and Highlands.”

She said SkiCo, being the valley’s largest employer and driver of tourism, will also consult with other businesses and interest groups about water use for snowmaking…

Ertl and Medellin both said that 70 to 80 percent of the man-made snow ends up back in the watershed during runoff, rather than being lost to evaporation.

Aspen signs deals with @AmericanRivers, Trout Unlimited to move Castle/Maroon dam rights — @AspenJournalism

Berries in the meadow near the Maroon Bells that would be flooded by a Maroon Creek Reservoir. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

American Rivers and Colorado Trout Unlimited are the latest of 10 opposing parties to sign agreements with the city of Aspen stating that the city will move its conditional water storage rights out of the upper Castle and Maroon creek valleys to five other locations.

“This is a significant victory for rivers in Colorado,” said Matt Rice, the Colorado River basin director for American Rivers, in a statement issued jointly with Colorado Trout Unlimited on Tuesday.

The alternative potential locations to store water from Castle and Maroon creeks include the city’s golf course, on open space near the Burlingame neighborhood, on open space at Cozy Point at the bottom of Brush Creek Road, on undeveloped land in Woody Creek next to the gravel pit and in the gravel pit itself.

David Nickum, the executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited, said in the statement, “We appreciate the city of Aspen making this commitment to meet its water-supply needs while protecting these much-loved valleys and creeks, and the wild trout that call them home.”

City officials also expect to soon receive a signed agreement from Roaring Fork Land and Cattle Co., the owner of an estate in the lower Maroon Creek valley, according to Margeret Medellin, a utilities portfolio manager for the city of Aspen.

As of May 29, the city had reached earlier settlements with Pitkin County, Wilderness Workshop, Western Resource Advocates, Double R Cross Ltd and Asp Properties LLC in the two cases.

Medellin said Tuesday she understands the U.S. Forest Service also is prepared to sign an agreement and is working toward that end.

And at a June 26 status conference, Craig Corona, the attorney for Larsen Family LP, the last of the 10 opposing parties, told the court he and his client were making progress toward settlement with the city.

City officials have previously said none of the agreements are valid unless all 10 parties sign them.

Reached on Tuesday, Corona said he could not discuss the case.

A water court official has given the opposing parties who have not reached agreement with the city until July 10 to respond to the city’s latest proposal.

The city then has until Aug. 7 to get back to the opposers and the next status conference in the two water court cases is set for Aug. 21.

A map showing the location of the potential Maroon Creek Reservoir.

1965 filing

The city’s conditional water storage rights date back to 1965, when the city first filed maps with the state declaring its intent to build the two dams.

One water right is tied to a 155-foot-tall dam that would be located just below the confluence of East and West Maroon creeks, within view of the Maroon Bells, to hold back 4,567 acre-feet of water in the potential Maroon Creek Reservoir.

The other is tied to a 170-foot-tall dam on Castle Creek 2 miles below Ashcroft that could store 9,062 acre-feet in the potential Castle Creek Reservoir.

The city’s water rights carry a 1971 priority date and since then the city has periodically told the state it still intends to build the dams and reservoirs someday, when necessary.

In its latest periodic diligence filings with the state, in October 2016, the city again declared its intent and drew opposition from the 10 opposing parties.

The dam site of the potential Maroon Creek Reservoir, in the Roaring Fork River basin. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Key issues raised during the process include whether the city has been diligently making progress toward building the dams and if the city needs the water.

However, sufficient diligence and need are in the eyes of a water court judge and remain unresolved questions.

In their statement issued Tuesday, American Rivers and Trout Unlimited pointed out that “Aspen’s own 2016 water availability report clearly stated that the city did not need the two dams for municipal water supply or climate resiliency.”

Since that 2016 report the city has conducted a “risk analysis” study that found it could perhaps need about 8,000 acre-feet of storage in a hotter and drier world.

And a recent engineering study that identified five alternative locations where the city could potentially store the water.

“We explored alternatives for water storage and we believe we’ve come up with the best solution for prudent water management that serves the needs of our water customers and speaks to our environmental values,” Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron said in March, when the city spent $2.68 million on 63 acres of vacant land as a potential water storage site.

Under the terms of the settlements being signed with the city, the opposing parties are conceding that the city has been diligent, or perhaps diligent enough, and are taking a neutral stance, at least with the court, on the question of whether the city needs that much water.

“American Rivers agreed to diligence for the City of Aspen because we thought this was the best opportunity to reach a settlement with the city that would permanently remove the water rights for the two dams from the Castle and Maroon Creek valleys, not because we believe the city needs more water storage or has been diligent in developing the projects,” Rice, of American Rivers, told Aspen Journalism. “Our priority has always been the health and protection of Castle and Maroon Creeks. “

The signed agreements to date say that the parties will not oppose a forthcoming application from the city to relocate up to 8,500 acre-feet of its 13,629 acre-feet of conditional water storage rights to potential storage facilities at the five locations outside of the high valleys.

Other parties, not in the Castle and Maroon creek cases, can still oppose the city’s efforts in water court to move the water rights, and their 1971 decree date.

If it is unsuccessful in its efforts to move the rights, the city has said, in the agreements it has signed to date, that it will not seek to maintain the Castle and Maroon rights in their original locations.

The signed agreements to date say that the parties will not oppose a forthcoming application from the city to relocate up to 8,500 acre-feet of it’s 13,629 acre-feet of conditional water storage rights to potential storage facilities at the five locations outside of the high valleys.

Other parties, not in the Castle and Maroon creek cases, can still oppose the city’s efforts in water court to move the water rights, and their 1971 decree date.

If it is unsuccessful in its efforts to move the rights, the city has said, in the agreements it has signed to date, that it will not seek to maintain the Castle and Maroon rights in their original locations.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times on coverage of rivers and water. The Times published this story on July 4, 2018.

City of Aspen moves closer to settlements on Castle and Maroon creeks water rights cases — @AspenJournalism

The dam site of the potential Maroon Creek Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett):

The city of Aspen continues to make progress on reaching settlement agreements with 10 different parties over its water rights on Maroon and Castle creeks, and a water referee set deadlines that could lead to a resolution before the end of summer.

At a status conference [July 26, 2018], both the city and its opponents said progress is being made toward resolving the cases.

“I feel optimistic we are moving toward a settlement,” said Cindy Covell, a water attorney for the city who is with Alperstein and Covell in Denver.

So far, five of the 10 parties who oppose the city’s efforts in water court to maintain conditional storage rights tied to potential dams on Maroon and Castle creeks have signed settlement agreements. Still left to sign are American Rivers, Trout Unlimited, the U.S. Forest Service, Larsen Family Limited Partnership and Roaring Fork Land & Cattle Co.

Attorney Paul Noto, who represents American Rivers, Trout Unlimited and Roaring Fork Land and Cattle Co., said his clients will likely settle soon.

“I think we are all enthused about how it all ended up,” Noto said. “We are excited about the protections afforded to Castle and Maroon creeks.”

That leaves two other parties that are further away from settling, Larsen Family LP and the U.S. Forest Service.

Attorney Craig Corona of Aspen, who represents the Larsen family, told water court referee Susan Michelle Ryan on Tuesday that he and the city are “definitely” making progress toward finalizing a settlement. The U.S. Forest Service has been difficult to reach lately, according to Covell.

Upper Castle Creek, about two miles below Ashcroft, where the city holds conditional water storage rights tied to the potential Castle Creek Reservoir, which would be formed by a 170-foot-tall dam. The city is moving closer to reaching settlement agreements with the ten parties opposing the city’s effort to hang on to the water rights, and the settlement includes moving the city’s rights out of the Castle and Maroon creek valleys.

Response deadlines

Ryan set a deadline of July 10 for the remaining opposing parties to respond to the city’s settlement proposal. The city must respond to those responses (if a response is necessary) by Aug. 7. The next status conference is scheduled for Aug. 21.

The cases are being heard in Division 5 Water Court in Glenwood Springs. The new deadlines mean the cases will extend past the 18-month deadline of disposition, but Ryan decided to keep them on her docket since progress toward a resolution is being made.

Potential reservoirs

Since 1965, the city has owned conditional water rights for reservoirs on Maroon and Castle creeks. In October 2016, the city filed a diligence application to maintain the water rights, which are tied to potential dams.

The potential Maroon Creek Reservoir would hold 4,567 acre-feet of water and include a 155-foot-tall dam, which would flood part of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. The potential Castle Creek Reservoir would hold 9,062 acre-feet behind a 170-foot-tall dam 2 miles below Ashcroft.

The possibility of two new reservoirs and dams didn’t sit well with 10 parties, who filed statements of opposition to the two water rights cases in December 2016.

Under the agreements, the city will seek to transfer its conditional water storage rights to other potential reservoir sites, including a gravel pit near Woody Creek, with a maximum storage capacity of 8,500 acre-feet. As part of the deal, the opposing parties have agreed not to fight the city’s efforts to move the water rights to new locations for 20 years.

The five parties that have already signed the agreements include Pitkin County, Wilderness Workshop, Western Resource Advocates and two private property owners in Castle Creek Valley.

#Aspen may stockpile water under its golf course — @HighCountryNews

From The High Country News (Jessic Kutz):

This story is a part of the ongoing Back 40 series, where HCN reporters look at national trends and their impacts close to home.

Following a dry winter, Colorado’s already low snowpack is rapidly dwindling and extreme drought has been declared in a third of the state. Many communities, not only in Colorado, but also in other parts of the West, are wondering about their future water security.

For the city of Aspen, located in the headwaters of the Upper Colorado River Basin, planning for a warmer climate is no longer about the distant future. The 6,500-population municipality relies on pulling water from creeks fed by the snowpack, which sat at just eight percent of its median as of June 11, according to snow monitoring data. And the future doesn’t look any better: Recent research suggests climate change will further disrupt the snowpack in the coming years.

In Aspen, the need for water security is being met with a search for alternative storage solutions that have less damaging environmental impacts than the big dams of yesteryear. Over the past two years the city has begun testing several potential water storage sites, including beneath the municipal golf course, as a means to deal with future water shortages. “We are at that point now were it is time to start putting those (storage) plans into action,” said Margaret Medellin, the city’s utilities manager.

The dam site of the potential Maroon Creek Reservoir. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

While Aspen pulls its water from nearby Crystal and Maroon creeks, the city doesn’t have any storage capacity. Currently, the city can stockpile just a day’s worth of water, something Medellin said could be a problem this year. “People right now are conserving water and we could still be in a real hardship at the end of the summer because we have no way to store that water,” she said. “When talking about other communities in Colorado and the West that is a level of vulnerability that is not really acceptable as a water management practice.”

This vulnerability is part of the reason why, since 1965, the city has quietly renewed a filing in Colorado’s water court that kept alive the possibility of building two dams on Castle and Maroon creeks. In 2016, when area environmental groups including the Wilderness Workshop and Western Resource Advocates got wind of the renewal, they announced their opposition to the filing, urging the City of Aspen to relinquish its storage rights. If developed, those rights would have flooded some of the state’s most pristine landscape.

In May the city agreed to forego its conditional water storage rights in these wilderness areas, marking the end of Aspen’s ties to the era of large federal dams like Hoover and Glen Canyon. As part of the agreement, the city is now entering a new period for water storage and conservation policy. One option includes storing water under the city’s municipal golf course. The water could either be injected into the underlying aquifer, or would reach it through a basin specifically designed to draw water underground, Medellin said. This would allow the city to store up to 1,200 acre-feet, or about enough to supply 2,400 households for one year, and would eliminate evaporation, a problem that worsens with rising temperatures. “As a concept it really does help you preserve a lot of the water with minimal loss,” Medellin said.

The groups also identified a former gravel pit, and land adjacent to it, that could accommodate up to 8,000 acre-feet of water, which could be diverted from the Roaring Fork River, if the city transfers its water rights. Seen as a win-win by environmentalists, retrofitting old gravel pits has been used successfully on Colorado’s Front Range since the 1980s. The key would be diverting water from the river at the right time, which, according to Ken Neubacker, Colorado projects director at American Rivers, is right after the river reaches its peak flows. “It all depends on how they do it,” he said.

Aspen’s water management plans include irrigating with reused water and introducing a net metering system, which would help the city’s residents track — and reduce — water use. In collaboration with environmental groups, the city is also looking at a program which would allow farmers to temporarily lease some of their water rights during dry periods, letting the municipality use them instead.

For Aspen, much like other communities across the West, storage will increasingly become a part of water planning strategy, but at least now environmental groups are part of the discussion. “Coming to the table and talking these problems through will be essential,” said Robert Harris, an attorney with Western Resource Advocates. As climate change reduces available water, “we can’t depend on the past being any guarantee of the future.”

Jessica Kutz is an editorial intern at High Country News. This article was first published online at The High Country News on June 19, 2018.

A map provided by the city of Aspen showing the two parcels in Woody Creek it has under contract. The city is investigating the possibility of building a reservoir on the site, as well as looking at the possibility of a reservoir in the neighboring Elam gravel pit.

Updated timeline: the Maroon and Castle creek conditional water storage rights — @AspenJournalism

Will Roush, left, of Wilderness Workshop, and Ken Neubecker, right, of American Rivers, hold up tape on Sept. 7, 2016 showing where the base of a 155-foot-tall dam would be located on Maroon Creek if the City of Aspen were to build the potential Maroon Creek Reservoir.

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

Timeline from 1881 to pre-May 2018.

May 8, 2018, a status conference is held in the two cases in front of the water court referee. The city must respond to opposer’s settlement proposals by June 1. The next status conference is set for June 29. Meanwhile, the City of Aspen’s two due diligence applications remain before the water court referee, in a quasi-administrative, non-trial-track status.

May 9, 2018, Aspen Journalism and The Aspen Times report that city has reached agreement with one of the opposing parties in the dam cases.

May 24, 2018, A staff memo regarding stipulation agreements on the water rights is published by the city. The packet for a May 29 staff meeting also includes a proposed resolution.

The title of the resolution is “A RESOLUTION OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF ASPEN, COLORADO, AUTHORIZING THE CITY’S ATTORNEYS TO EXECUTE STIPULATIONS WITH OPPOSERS TO THE DILIGENCE CASES FOR CONDITIONAL WATER STORAGE RIGHTS ON CASTLE AND MAROON CREEKS ON BEHALF OF THE CITY OF ASPEN, COLORADO.”

The Aspen Daily News reports on the city council’s pending vote related to moving its move water rights out of Castle and Maroon creek valleys, as does The Aspen Times, Aspen Journalism, and Aspen Public Radio. APR’s story was headlined “Aspen agrees to never build dams on Castle and Maroon.”

A map prepared for the City of Aspen that shows the five potential water-storage sites in the Roaring Fork River valley.

May 29, 2018, The Aspen city council votes unanimously to approve agreements with five opposing parties in the Castle and Maroon creek cases. Agreements have yet to be reached with the other five opposing parties.

The Aspen Times and the Aspen Daily News each publish stories about the vote.

The city issues a press release with the headline, “City Council Votes to Support Moving Conditional Water Rights off Wilderness Areas.”

As of May 29 there were stipulation agreements signed by five parties. Three of those parties are in both the Castle and Maroon creek cases. Below is a list, with links to the agreements signed to date, and made public by the city.

There is also a draft degree included as Exhibit A to the agreements for both the Castle Creek stipulations and the Maroon Creek stipulations.

The Pitkin County stipulation is listed at the top, as it is the most restrictive of the stipulation agreements yet signed. It eliminates the use of the county-owned Moore Open Space as a potential storage site, while the earlier agreements with other parties include it.

Pitkin County – Maroon Creek Reservoir
Pitkin County – Castle Creek Reservoir

Wilderness Workshop – Maroon Creek Reservoir
Wilderness Workshop – Castle Creek Reservoir

Western Resource Advocates – Maroon Creek Reservoir
Western Resource Advocates – Castle Creek Reservoir

Double R Cross Ltd – Castle Creek Reservoir

ASP Properties, LLC – Castle Creek Reservoir

Agreements were not signed by May 29 with five other opposing parties, three of whom are in both cases:

USFS – Maroon Creek Reservoir
USFS – Castle Creek Reservoir

American Rivers – Maroon Creek Reservoir
American Rivers – Castle Creek Reservoir

Trout Unlimited – Maroon Creek Reservoir
Trout Unlimited – Castle Creek Reservoir

Larsen Family LP – Maroon Creek Reservoir

Roaring Fork Land and Cattle Co. – Maroon Creek Reservoir

May 30, 2018, Western Resource Advocates issues a press release about the city’s vote, with the headline, “Conservationists reach settlement with Aspen to permanently move water rights for dams out of Maroon & Castle Creeks.”

WRA is also encouraging people to sign a thank you card to the city of Aspen, saying “We’re celebrating a landmark agreement two years in the making: the City of Aspen has agreed not to build dams on Maroon and Castle Creeks!”

City of Aspen reaches agreement with five parties on moving Maroon and Castle creek water rights — @AspenJournalism

An illustration of the potential Maroon Creek Reservoir, prepared by Wilderness Workshop. Source: Wilderness Workshop

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The city of Aspen now has signed settlement agreements from five of the 10 parties opposing its efforts in water court to maintain conditional water storage rights tied to large potential dams on Maroon and Castle creeks, including Pitkin County, Wilderness Workshop, Western Resource Advocates, and two private-property owners in the Castle Creek valley.

“Aspen agrees that it will forego the right to store water pursuant to these water rights at the original decreed locations,” a May 24 staff memo from the city states.

The five parties that have yet to sign agreements include the U.S. Forest Service, American Rivers, Trout Unlimited, and two property owners in the Maroon Creek valley.

According to a draft resolution that the city council is expected to approve at a regular meeting on Tuesday, city staffers and the city attorney “have diligently negotiated with the remaining opposers to seek settlement in regarding their opposition and staff and its attorney believe that stipulations substantially similar to the attached stipulations will be entered with the remaining opposers.”

The city has said that none of the agreements are binding unless all 10 parties agree to the settlement terms.

As the city works through settlement negotiations with the parties, the resulting agreements can become more restrictive, but not less so, which is a common approach to settling water court cases.

For example, the agreement signed by an attorney for Pitkin County regarding Maroon Creek Reservoir does not include the county-owned Moore Open Space as one of the sites where the city may move its storage right, as did an earlier version of the agreement signed by Wilderness Workshop.

Other potential water-storage sites include the current Woody Creek gravel pit site, a piece of vacant land next to the gravel pit recently purchased by the city for potential water storage, the city-owned Zoline open space between the Maroon Creek Club and the Burlingame housing project, the city-owned Cozy Point Open Space at the bottom of Brush Creek Road, and the city’s municipal golf course.

Under the agreements, the city will seek to transfer its conditional water storage rights from the upper Castle and Maroon creek valleys to these other potential reservoir sites, with a maximum storage capacity of 8,500 acre-feet.

A map prepared for the City of Aspen that shows the five potential water-storage sites in the Roaring Fork River valley.

1971 decree

The city has held the conditional water rights for the Castle and Maroon creek reservoirs since 1965 and they carry a 1971 decree date, which the city hopes to carry to the other potential locations.

The potential Maroon Creek Reservoir would hold 4,567 acre-feet of water behind a 155-foot-tall dam on USFS property within view of the Maroon Bells. It would also flood a portion of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.

The potential Castle Creek Reservoir would hold 9,062 acre-feet behind a 170-foot-tall dam, mainly on private property, two miles below Ashcroft.

Western Resource Advocates and Wilderness Workshop issued a press release about their agreements with the city on Thursday afternoon.

The release was sent out after the city of Aspen posted the meeting packet for a scheduled May 29 Aspen City Council meeting.

Aspen Public Radio posted a story on Thursday afternoon with the headline, “Aspen agrees to never build dams on Castle and Maroon.”

The Aspen Times and the Aspen Daily News also wrote stories Thursday evening about the city’s progress in reaching settlements with opposing parties.

As part of the deal with the five parties who have signed agreements, or stipulations as they are called in water court, the opposing parties have agreed not to oppose the city’s efforts to change the water rights to the new locations for 20 years.

Six of the 10 parties who filed statements of opposition in December 2016, in response to the city’s due-diligence filing in October 2016, filed in both the Maroon and Castle creek cases.

But the two pairs of private-property owners filed in only one case each.

Double R Creek Limited, and ASP Properties, which control property in the Castle Creek valley where the potential dam would have been built, only filed in the Castle Creek case. They have both signed settlement agreements.

However, Larsen Family LP and Roaring Fork Land and Cattle Co., which own land in the Maroon Creek valley, have yet to sign agreements with the city.

The cases are being processed in Division 5 Water Court in Glenwood Springs. The next status conference in the case is scheduled for June 26, and the 18-month mark in the case is June 30.

From The Aspen Times (Carolyn Sackariason):

Two of the opposers, Wilderness Workshop and Western Resource Advocates, announced the settlement Thursday evening.

Will Roush, conservation director at Wilderness Workshop, commended the city for finding another way to store its water other than in a designated wilderness area.

“It’s a big deal. … Everybody came to a consensus that these were not the right places for dams,” he said.

Roush’s organization, along with nine other parties, sued the city after it applied to the state to extend existing conditional water rights for the two potential reservoirs. The city first applied for those rights in 1965.

Since 2016, city officials have maintained that adequate water storage is needed in anticipation of climate change impacts like drought, fire and changes in runoff.

“City Councils over the decades have worked to preserve Aspen water customers’ water supply, including storage options now and into the future,” Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron said in a statement. “We are pleased that we could achieve a solution with Wilderness Workshop and Western Resource Advocates, and hopefully all the parties invested in a mutually successful outcome, that protects pristine areas of wilderness while still prioritizing Aspen’s water needs for the coming decades.”

In 2017, the city announced its intention to move the conditional storage rights out of both valleys. It has been in negotiations with the opposing entities since then.

Stipulations with the five parties — which Aspen City Council is set to approve Tuesday — would result in the government relocating its water storage rights to six other potential locations in the Roaring Fork Valley…

Roush said he has spoken to representatives of some of those parties and there are no substantial differences in the stipulations. He said he expects those agreements to be signed off on, but in the meantime there is no time like the present to advance his organization’s goal to keep water storage out of the valleys…

“It’s a great day for Castle and Maroon creek valleys, and that those streams will remain free-flowing,” Roush said.

Aspen officials say city needs to store 8,500 acre-feet of water as backup — @AspenJournalism

Site of proposed maroon creek reservoir via Aspen Journalism.

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith)

The city of Aspen told the state [in late December, 2017] it will need 8,500 acre-feet of water storage in order to meet water demands in a hotter and drier world.

The disclosure of how much water storage the city thinks it will need to store in 2065 came as part of a response the city provided Friday to state officials in water court, who were seeking a “substantive” written response by Dec. 29 from the city to issues raised about the potential Maroon Creek and Castle Creek reservoirs.

As part of its response, the city included a Dec. 7 letter from its engineering consultants, Deere and Ault of Longmont, who concluded “the required storage capacity for the city of Aspen is approximately 8,500 acre-feet.”

To help put that into context, Lost Man Reservoir holds 100 acre-feet of water; Grizzly Reservoir on Lincoln Creek holds 590 acre-feet; Wildcat Reservoir, visible from the Snowmass Ski Area, holds 1,100 acre-feet; Harvey Gap Reservoir, north of New Castle, holds 5,060 acre-feet; Paonia Reservoir, west of McClure Pass, holds 20,950 acre-feet; and Ruedi Reservoir on the Fryingpan River holds 102,369 acre-feet.

Engineers at Deere and Ault based their storage estimate on a Nov. 30 study done for the city by Headwaters Corp., titled “Aspen’s Water Future: Estimating the Number and Severity of Possible Future Water Shortages.”

The report, which also was submitted to the court, assumed that a warming climate means less water will be flowing down Castle and Maroon creeks, the city’s two main sources of water, and that the runoff will come earlier.

And, working toward a worst-case scenario, they assumed that the city will not increase water conservation efforts, that large irrigation diversions from Maroon and Castle creeks will not be decreased, and that the city will still try to maintain environmental flow levels on both creeks, which it is not legally obligated to do.

The Headwaters report found that water shortages of over 1,000 acre-feet a year could occur in five out of 100 years, with “shortage” defined to include current irrigation diversions and environmental flows on top of domestic uses.

Deere and Ault then used the Headwaters risk-analysis study to come up with a necessary water storage amount of 8,500 acre-feet to offset the potential water shortages, although its two-page Dec. 7 letter does not describe in detail how it reached its conclusion based on the Headwaters report.

The conclusion from Deere and Ault is different than one made for the city by Wilson Water Group in 2016, which concluded in a report — adopted by the city — that the city would not need new water storage if it took other steps, such as increasing conservation, installing ground wells and using “reuse” water to irrigate its golf course.

In 1965, an engineer working for the city of Aspen selected this location, just below the confluence of East and West Maroon creeks, as the location for a potential 155-foot-tall dam. The city is still on record with the state as intending to build the dam here, if necessary, to meet its future water needs.

Storage rights

The city has been maintaining conditional water storage rights since 1965 for the two potential reservoirs on Castle and Maroon creeks.

The Maroon Creek Reservoir would hold 4,567 acre-feet of water behind a 155-foot-tall dam across upper Maroon Creek, within view of the Maroon Bells, and the Castle Creek Reservoir would hold, as currently decreed, 9,062 acre-feet behind a 170-foot-tall dam across Castle Creek, 2 miles below Ashcroft.

The conditional storage rights, which hold a 1971 decree, are distinct from the city’s absolute diversion rights on Castle and Maroon, which are senior rights and adequately supply the city’s water system today.

In July, the city announced its intention to try to transfer the conditional storage rights out of the Castle and Maroon creek valleys, and it has put a parcel of land next to the gravel pit in Woody Creek under contract and directed staff to begin developing a reservoir there.

A study done by Deere and Ault in September concluded the city could store up to 8,000 acre-feet of water on the Woody Creek site. The city has said it is also looking at other places to potentially store water, including the city’s golf course and the Cozy Point open space at the intersection of Brush Creek Road and Highway 82.

The city has also put forth a settlement proposal to the 10 parties opposing its efforts to maintain its water rights, and the proposal is predicated upon the city transferring its storage rights out of the Castle and Maroon creek valleys.

But no settlement has yet been reached and the city is still officially on the record with the state of Colorado, through its two applications in water court, saying it fully intends to build both the Castle and Maroon creek reservoirs, someday, when necessary.

A map provided by the city of Aspen showing the two parcels in Woody Creek it has under contract. The city is investigating the possibility of building a reservoir on the site, as well as looking at the possibility of a reservoir in the neighboring Elam gravel pit.

Outstanding questions

After reviewing the two due diligence applications filed by the city in October 2016 seeking to maintain the conditional storage rights, the division engineer and water court referee in Divison 5 in Glenwood Springs raised a set of threshold issues they wanted the city to address.

The officials asked on Jan. 23 for the city to demonstrate it could secure permits and land-use approvals to build the dams and reservoirs, that it could do so in a reasonable time, that it has a specific plan to build them, and that there was sufficient population growth in Aspen’s water service area to justify storing the water.

The city’s water attorney, Cynthia Covell of Alperstein and Covell in Denver, has been reluctant to respond in detail to the court’s request, which came in the form of a summary of consultation.

In her Dec. 29 letter to the court, Covell suggested it was outside of the court’s purview to ask the city to do so at this point in the proceedings.

“Aspen maintains that much of this concern is based on the division engineer’s view of applicable law, and is beyond the proper scope of a consultation report, but nevertheless, responds as follows …” Covell said in her letter.

Covell then reiterated several points that city officials have been making over the past year, including that the city today does not have any “meaningful storage facilities” and that climate change projections “demonstrate the need for storage.”

And while she did not make a detailed case to the court that the city of Aspen could build the Castle Creek Reservoir or the Maroon Creek Reservoir, she did say Aspen could get the necessary permits and arrange financing for reservoirs.

“As a financially stable municipality, Aspen has available to it a number of financing options and therefore will be able to construct a reservoir sufficient to store 8,500 acre-feet,” Covell told the court in her letter in the Castle Creek case. “The decreed location of the Castle Creek Reservoir is primarily on private land. Aspen is able to acquire private land by purchase, lease or eminent domain. Legal procedures and mechanisms exist to obtain land-use approvals and permits on federal land, if necessary, including special-use permit, Congressional authorization and presidential authorization.”

On the other hand, Covell included language that alludes to the city’s stated intent to try to transfer the Castle and Maroon rights out of Castle Creek to another location, such as Woody Creek, and then fill that new reservoir with water from both Castle and Maroon creeks.

“Aspen will develop both the Castle Creek Reservoir storage right (to the extent of 8,500 acre-feet) [and] the companion Maroon Creek Reservoir storage right … in order to provide two sources to meet this storage need,” Covell wrote, without specifically mentioning a reservoir outside of the Castle or Maroon creek valleys. “The total amount of storage will be 8,500 acre-feet from both sources, with no more than 8,500 acre-feet to be diverted annually from Castle Creek. Aspen will relinquish the remaining 562 acre-feet decreed to the Castle Creek Reservoir.”

It’s not clear why the city is willing to relinquish 562 acre-feet from the potential Castle Creek Reservoir right, which is now decreed at 9,062 acre-feet, but it may be a reflection of two earlier agreements with adjoining land owners to reduce the size of the reservoir so as not to flood their properties.

In a separate letter to the court regarding Maroon Creek, Covell took a similar stance, saying the city “will be able to construct a reservoir sufficient to store the 4,567 acre-feet per year to be diverted from Maroon Creek,” but didn’t say where that reservoir might be located.

A status conference in the two water court cases is set for Jan. 4. The parties could agree to keep the case on a quasi-administrative track in front of a water court referee, or the case could be set on a trial track in front of a water court judge.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating on coverage of rivers and water with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Vail Daily, and the Summit Daily News. The Aspen Times published this story in its print edition on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2017 and the Post Independent published it on Jan. 3.