Conservation: Big water savings in Aspen — Mountain Town News #ColoradoRiver

June 30, 2014

Smuggler Mine back in the day via

Smuggler Mine back in the day via

From the Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

In 1974, Aspen’s future seemed clear enough. The town was growing briskly, the ski industry booming, and by the 1990s the town would need to make major investments to provide water for the future.

With that in mind, town officials filed for storage rights on two upstream creeks, Castle and Maroon, where the municipality already had significant senior water rights. Had the town gone ahead with construction of those reservoirs, the cost today would be roughly $50 million.

Instead, in about 1994, Mayor John Bennett and council members chose a different approach. They would emphasize water savings.

Phil Overeynder, who was the city’s utility manager then, says he has calculated that today water rates would need to be quadrupled to pay for the reservoirs and other infrastructure.

But there was another reason for Aspen to pursue conservation beginning in the 1990s. Overeynder said improved efficiency bolstered the argument that Eastern Slope water providers needed to make do with what they had before expanding diversions. In his eyes, Eastern Slope water providers still have not done everything they can. “Not to the extent it was promised 40 years ago,” he says.

For Aspen, improving water efficiency has several components. The city couldn’t account for 55 percent of the water being sent to customers. There were leaks, lots of them. It was, says Overeynder, a third-world water system. But a lot of water was used to bleed pipes. Water mains were buried deep, but the service lines to individual houses were within the frost line. During winter, homeowners left their faucets running, to avoid freezing. It was city policy to overlook that use.

Over time, these inefficient uses have been eliminated. The rate structure was revised to strongly recommend efficiency.

From 450 gallons per capita daily in 1974, use peaked in 1993 at 516 gallons.

Last year, it was 164 gallons per capita daily.

Use still spikes in summer, but not as much. The water treatment plant expanded in the 1980s has surplus capacity.

More Roaring Fork River watershed coverage here.

The City of Aspen has a long list of projects for the #ColoradoRiver Basin Implementation Plan #COWaterPlan

April 7, 2014

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

Tall new dams in pristine spots on upper Castle and Maroon creeks. Bigger dams on Lost Man and Lincoln creeks in the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River. A bigger reservoir at the city’s water plant. Water pumped up from deep underneath Aspen. Treated effluent pumped from the Aspen wastewater plant to the city golf course. Water left in the river instead of being diverted to the Wheeler irrigation ditch.

These projects are all on a list that Mike McDill, the city of Aspen’s deputy director of utilities, wants included on a larger list of regional water projects now being compiled by the Colorado River Basin Roundtable.

“If it is already on the list, at least people can’t say they didn’t know we were thinking about it,” McDill said…

Over 500 “projects, policies and processes” are now on the Colorado roundtable’s draft priority list, including Aspen’s suggested projects. The list, which is part inventory, part to-do list, and part wish list, is to be winnowed down in the next two months by the roundtable.

“Putting projects on the roundtable’s list is a good way to provoke conversation,” said Louis Meyer, a consulting engineer with SGM, who is leading the development of the Colorado roundtable’s basin plan. “It is also incumbent on us to show the state that we have a list of water needs.”[...]

During recent public roundtable meetings, McDill has described Aspen’s list of projects in a calm and pragmatic matter, despite the scale of some of them.

“Our concern is we have a lot of water in June and not so much water the rest of the year,” McDill said about the potential value of reservoirs on upper Maroon and Castle creeks.

Today the city of Aspen diverts water from lower Castle and Maroon creeks for its water supply, but it does not have any water storage capacity beyond the tiny Leonard Thomas Reservoir at the water plant, which can hold 14 acre-feet of water.

If built someday as described by the city’s conditional water right, the Maroon Creek reservoir would store 4,567 acre-feet of water behind a 155-foot-tall dam just below the confluence of East Maroon and West Maroon creeks, which is known as a stunningly beautiful location. A Maroon Creek reservoir would cover 85 acres of U.S. Forest Service land about a mile-and-a-half below Maroon Lake.

The Castle Creek reservoir would hold 9,062 acre-feet of water behind a 170-foot-tall dam located about two miles below the historic town site of Ashcroft in a verdant valley. It would inundate 120 acres of mostly private land.

The city has renewed the conditional water rights for the two reservoirs eight times since they were decreed in 1971 and is required to do so again in 2016, when it must show it is making progress toward building the reservoirs.

“Aspen will build the Castle Creek and Maroon Creek reservoirs if necessary and if in the best interest of citizens of the community,” city officials said in 2012…

Also on Aspen’s list of potential projects is the enlargement of existing reservoirs, including Grizzly Reservoir and Leonard Thomas Reservoir…

Grizzly Reservoir was built in the 1930s on upper Lincoln Creek, a tributary of the Roaring Fork River. The reservoir is owned by the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., of which the city of Colorado Springs is now the majority owner. The reservoir holds about 570 acre-feet of water and primarily serves as the forebay to the tunnel that Twin Lakes uses to divert water under the Continental Divide…

The smaller Lost Man Reservoir, also owned by Twin Lakes, backs up water on Lost Man Creek and then diverts it to Grizzly Reservoir…

But Kevin Lusk, a principal with Colorado Springs Utilities, and the president of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., threw cold water this week on the idea of expanding either Grizzly or Lost Man reservoir.

“Twin Lakes has no plans or interest in enlarging these facilities,” Lusk said via email. “Nor has anyone talked to us about these ideas.”[...]

Also on the city’s list is expanding Leonard Thomas Reservoir at the city’s water plant above Aspen Valley Hospital so it can hold 25 acre-feet instead of 14 acre-feet…

Another water project on the municipal list is to determine just how much water is under the city of Aspen, and whether it is suitable for drinking.

In 2012 and 2013, the city drilled a water-well near Herron Park 1,520 feet underground in search of hot water it could use for geothermal energy.

But in July 2013 the city announced that it did not find water hot enough to make electricity, but it did find a steady stream of clear water coming up out of the well at 29 pounds per square inch, about half of the water pressure in a normal household.

“This summer, we’re putting a pump into the well to analyze the water and get some feel for the capacity of the aquifer,” McDill said.

If it turns out there is still a lot of water 1,500 feet underground Aspen, the city may install a larger, permanent pump into its test well to create a back-up supply of water…

The pump back project, which is well under way, will allow the city to reuse water from the Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District to supplement its irrigation water on the municipal golf course, and to provide irrigation and snowmaking water for other entities, including the Buttermilk Mountain ski area.

“It is intended to keep more water in the Castle Creek by not diverting for the golf course,” McDill said.

The source of the water is “treated municipal effluent” and pipes already have been installed from the sanitation plant, past the Burlingame neighborhood, and to a pond on the city golf course.

The city is still seeking a water right for its pump back project from state water court, and has been working out agreements with a long list of opponents.

The water is to be primarily used to irrigate 12.3 acres of landscaping along Highway 82 and Cemetery Lane, according to documents in water court. It also could supplement irrigation on 131 acres of the Aspen golf course, 21 acres of land in the Burlingame project, and 80 acres of the Maroon Creek golf course.

In all, 233 acres of land could receive water from the project and water could be used to make snow on as much as 156 acres of land at Buttermilk…

The Fork is often below a flow level of 32 cfs, which is the minimum amount of water the CWCB has determined is necessary to protect the environment “to a reasonable degree.” Last year, the city entered into a short-term water [lease] with the CWCB to leave 6 cfs of water in the river instead of diverting the water into the Wheeler Ditch, which is located river-left just downstream of the Aspen Club pedestrian bridge. The water in the Wheeler Ditch is typically used by the city for landscaping and irrigation in various parts of central Aspen…

The Colorado River basin roundtable is scheduled to next discuss its draft list of projects on Monday, April 14, from noon to 4 p.m. at the Glenwood Springs community center.

More Colorado Water Plan coverage here.

Aspen: Both sides in the city’s hydropower abandonment case have engaged experts to determine streamflow needs

March 4, 2014
Pelton wheel

Pelton wheel

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via the Aspen Daily News:

A collaborative committee, formed by opposing parties in a lawsuit claiming the city of Aspen has abandoned its rights to divert water from Castle and Maroon creeks for a proposed hydro plant, is making slow progress toward its goals.

When the settlement effort was announced last year after a “stay” was filed in the case, there were hopes that a stream ecologist could be agreed upon and hired early this year to study the proposed hydro plant and the streams and make recommendations about “stream health goals.”

Steve Wickes, a local facilitator guiding the committee and working for both parties in the case, said the committee’s goals were narrowly defined: Can the two sides, with the help of a mutually trusted expert, agree on how much water can be taken out of the creeks?

But before a “request for proposals” can be written to attract a third-party stream ecologist, the committee has agreed that two experts who are working for either side should first review the list of prior studies done on the two rivers to determine where there are information gaps…

To help review the existing studies and draft the request for proposal, the city has hired Bill Miller, the president of Miller Ecological Consultants of Fort Collins, who has been working for the city on river issues since 2009.

And the plaintiffs have hired Richard Hauer, a professor of limnology (freshwater science) at the University of Montana and the director of the Montana Institute on Ecosystems. Hauer appeared at an event in Aspen in 2012 to discuss the importance of keeping water flowing naturally through a river’s ecosystem…

On the committee from the city are Steve Barwick, Aspen’s city manager, Jim True, the city attorney, and David Hornbacher, the head of the city’s utilities and environmental initiatives.

Representing the plaintiffs on the committee are Paul Noto, a water attorney with Patrick, Miller, Kropf and Noto of Aspen, and Maureen Hirsch, a plaintiff in the suit who lives along Castle Creek.

The other plaintiffs include Richard Butera, Bruce Carlson, Christopher Goldsbury, Jr. and four LLCs controlled by Bill Koch. All of the plaintiffs own land and water rights along either Castle or Maroon creeks.

Wickes said the members of the committee have agreed with his suggestion that they not discuss their ongoing work with the media, and instead refer questions to him.

The claim of abandonment against the city was filed in 2011 water court, in case number 11CW130, “Richard T. Butera et al v. the city of Aspen.”

The case was poised to go to trial on Oct. 28, 2013 and both sides filed trial briefs on Oct. 14.

On Oct. 18, however, the parties filed a stay request with the court so they could “cooperate in engaging a qualified independent, neutral, stream ecology expert.”

The ecologist is to study the rivers and the proposed plant and then “determine a bypass amount of water, to be left in the stream by Aspen.”

The opposing parties are then supposed to “use their best efforts to define the stream health goals to be achieved by said amount of water.”

That could mean, as one example, that a flow regime is agreed upon, with varying levels of water being left in the rivers below the city’s diversions at different times of year, depending in part on the natural amount of water in the rivers during any given year.

Such a protocol exists today on Snowmass Creek as it relates to diverting water for snowmaking at the Snowmass Ski Area.

The city is currently proposing to divert up to 27 cubic feet per second of water from Maroon Creek and 25 cfs of water from Castle Creek for the proposed hydro plant, on top of the water it currently diverts from both streams for municipal uses and the existing Maroon Creek hydro plant.

The city also has a policy to keep at least 13.3 cfs in Castle Creek and 14 cfs in Maroon Creek below its diversion dams in order to help protect the rivers’ ecosystems…

The plaintiffs in the suit against the city have told the court they are concerned that if the city diverts more water for hydropower, it could hurt their ability to use their junior water rights on Castle or Maroon creeks. They also claim the city intended to abandon its hydro rights connected to an old hydro plant on Castle Creek, which the city concedes it has not used since 1961.

But the city has denied it ever intended to abandon its water rights and has challenged the plaintiffs’ standing to bring the suit.

Whether the September court dates are needed likely depends on whether the two sides can agree to hire a third-party stream consultant, and then agree to follow their recommendations.

If so, Wickes thinks such an exercise could influence how rivers and streams around the West are managed.

“I’m actually hopeful that when the study is completed, not only will it inform future conversations about the hydroelectric plant, it will inform a wide number of decisions about stream ecology, how we treat our streams, and how things are interconnected,” Wickes said.

More hydroelectric coverage here.

2012 Colorado November election: Aspen voters say no to proposed Castle Creek hydroelectric generation plant

November 8, 2012


From The Aspen Times (Andre Salvail):

By a mere 110 votes, Aspen voters rejected an advisory question designed to move the city’s controversial Castle Creek hydroelectric power project forward…

Tom and Maureen Hirsch, vocal opponents of the project and residents on the banks of Castle Creek, said they might have supported a city initiative that was more eclectic. A mix of micro hydroelectric projects with other types of renewable energy efforts such as wind and solar power would be more acceptable to the community, they said, but the city instead decided to focus all of its efforts on Castle and Maroon creeks…

Over the last two years, city officials and others supporting the project, including Mayor Mick Ireland, sought to turn the debate into one of environmental stewardship, saying the hydroplant on Castle Creek would eventually eliminate the city electric utility’s reliance on power generated by coal, a nonrenewable resource.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Aspen: Environmental community divided over propose Castle Creek hydroelectric generation plant

November 5, 2012


From The Aspen Times via The Denver Post:

Big names in the environmental movement are lined up on both sides of the issue. Connie Harvey, Charlie Hopton and Ken Neubecker are opposed to the proposed plant. Harvey was a founder of Wilderness Workshop. Hopton has been a member of environmental causes and organizations in Aspen for several decades. Neubecker has emerged as a leading voice in the Roaring Fork Valley on water issues.

Those lined up in support of the plant include Auden Schendler, Randy Udall and Paul Andersen. Schendler is executive director of sustainability for Aspen Skiing Co. Udall was the original director of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency and has emerged as a national expert on energy issues. Andersen is a respected environmental essayist and a columnist for The Aspen Times.

Voters in the city of Aspen will cast ballots Tuesday on Question 2C, an advisory question on the Castle Creek Hydroelectric Facility.

Hopton said he has rarely seen the upper Roaring Fork Valley’s environmental community torn apart over an issue like it is over the hydroelectric plant. He has friends on both sides of the issue and avoids discussing it with those backing the proposal. He hasn’t taken an active role in the campaign.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Aspen’s original (c. 1890) Pelton Wheel now on on display

October 10, 2012


From The Aspen Times:

A key part of Aspen’s former hydroelectric plant will go on display Tuesday in the Silver Queen Gondola Plaza.

The Pelton wheel hydroelectric turbine will be displayed starting at 10 a.m. The machinery was used around 1890 to convert falling water into electricity at the Castle Creek Hydroelectric Plant.

The historic equipment will be unveiled by Sam Perry, the great-grandson of DRC Brown, the original owner and operator of the Castle Creek plant. Perry is a Roaring Fork Valley native who is now president of Sollos Energy, which operates hydroelectric plants in other parts of the country.

The Pelton runner going on display is a smaller version of the same type of equipment that would be used in a proposed new Castle Creek hydroelectric plant.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Aspen: Locals form group to promote the proposed Castle Creek hydroelectric generation plant

September 8, 2012


From the Aspen Daily News (Curtis Wackerle):

The “Backyard Energy Campaign” is set to kick off Monday with a press conference at the Marolt Barn at 2 p.m. The group is pushing for a “yes” vote on the recently approved ballot question asking voters if they want the city to continue pursuing the project, which would use water from Castle and Maroon creeks to generate hydropower.

Longtime Aspenite Jim Markalunas, who ran the city’s historic Castle Creek hydropower plant before it shutdown in the late 1950s, is chair of the committee. Ruthie Brown, a member of Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers and Streams Board whose family pioneered hydropower in the region, is a co-chair, along with climate change expert Randy Udall. Aspen Skiing Co. environmental sustainability vice president Auden Schendler also has signed on in support, according to a press release the group issued Thursday.

“The committee message is clear: Aspen has the opportunity to stop burning 6 million pounds of dirty coal and instead can produce clean, renewable energy in our own backyard while ensuring healthy stream flows,” the group’s statement says, referring to the amount of coal-fired power currently purchased by Aspen the city claims the hydro project would supplant.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

2012 Colorado November election: City of Aspen hydroelectric project on the November ballot

September 6, 2012


From The Aspen Times (Andre Salvail):

One [ballot question], arguably the most controversial, is a referendum question that asks voters whether the city should continue with a hydroelectric project on Castle Creek…

With regard to the hydroelectric plant, the city’s voters will be asked the following “advisory” question: “Shall the city of Aspen complete the hydroelectric facility on Castle Creek, subject to local stream health monitoring and applicable government regulations, to replace coal-fired energy with renewable energy?” The council and city staff agreed to the ballot language at an Aug. 28 work session, and no members of the audience spoke up to oppose it.

So far, the city has spent about $7 million on the hydroelectric project, which aims to take a portion of the water flowing from Castle and Maroon creeks to generate enough power to cover 8 percent of the city electric utility’s needs. In 2007, when voters approved a bond-issue referendum that set the hydroelectric project into motion, the project cost was estimated at $6.2 million. Cost overruns have resulted in a revised estimate of $10.5 million to complete the plant.

A petition drive led by local residents Ward Hauenstein and Maurice Emmer early this year set off a chain of events leading to the referendum question. The petition sought to overturn the council’s December rezoning decision allowing public land off Power Plant Road to be used for the plant. The proposed plant has drawn fierce opposition from some Castle Creek property owners as well as the nonprofit group American Rivers.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Roaring Fork Valley: Friends of Rivers and Renewables forms to promote ‘civil discussion’ the proposed hydroelectric generation station

April 14, 2012


From The Aspen Times (Andre Salvail):

The organization, Friends of Rivers and Renewables, is an offshoot of Old Snowmass resident Tim McFlynn’s nonprofit Public Counsel of the Rockies. McFlynn served as a mediator last year in negotiations between city officials and Castle Creek project critics, a process that led to the city’s “slow start” concept for the plant and other compromises.

Old Snowmass resident Chelsea Congdon Brundige, a documentary filmmaker and conservationist, will serve as director of the new organization. The group is seeking to provide a “grassroots educational effort to engender a more collaborative, less confrontational discussion of the important issues raised by the city’s proposed hydropower project,” according to a statement.

In a phone interview on Thursday, Brundige said she understands that city officials and other project supporters likely will look upon her group as another gadfly organization that hopes to cast the Castle Creek Energy Center in a negative light and eventually stop the project. But that’s far from the case, she said.

“This is a project that we would like to pursue for at least the next 10 years,” Brundige said. “The nexus between what we do in western Colorado about energy and what we do about water are going to be the two most important subjects for the next 50 years. All you have to do is look at the drought that we’re going to have this summer and realize how important it is for us to dig really deep and develop a good understanding and community dialogue about what our clean energy choices are and what we should be doing to protect our rivers and streams.”

Meanwhile, Aspen’s report to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission contained errors. Here’s a report from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for the Aspen Daily News. From the article:

City officials say once the mistakes in the report are corrected, the estimate of net power to be produced by both the new Castle Creek hydro plant, and the existing Maroon Creek plant, will likely be shown to be 6.1 million kilowatt hours a year, down from a previously estimated 6.4 million hours.

The report, as it was submitted to the federal government, indicated that the net power generated by both plants would be 5.4 million kilowatt hours.

The report, an “assessment of project operation, stream flow and power generation” relating to the proposed Castle Creek Energy Center, was dated Wednesday, April 4 and submitted to FERC the same day.

It was prepared by Kerry Sundeen, a hydrologist and president of Grand River Consulting in Glenwood Springs, who has been advising the city on its proposed hydro project for several years.

At least some of the information in the report was specifically requested by officials at the FERC, which is in the process of reviewing the city’s license application for the new hydro project.

Mitzi Rapkin, the city’s communications director, said that Aspen City Manager Steve Barwick noticed some of the mistakes over the weekend while reading the report, and that a story in Monday’s Aspen Daily News prompted other city officials to take a closer look at the report.

Here’s a report about FERC’s visit to Aspen this week, from Curtis Wackerle writing for the Aspen Daily News. From the article:

But Jim Fargo, a project manager with the FERC based in Washington, D.C., said the city of Aspen’s proposal is on the agency’s radar to a greater extent than other small projects. For one, he said he’s seen in submitted public comments, and in the local press, sufficient confusion about the federal licensing process the city is entering. So he gave a presentation at Tuesday’s public meeting to the 50 or so gathered on the “traditional licensing process,” explaining how it requires a vetting of all studies presented and a review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). At best, the remainder of the licensing process will take another two-and-a-half to three years, he said.

Later in the process, people can formally contest information and file protests. However, “because of the level of controversy on this project, it’s being treated like it’s already a contested proceeding,” Fargo said.

Anyone is welcome to contact him at his office with process questions — (202) 502-6095 or — but he said he can’t debate the merits of the project due to the formal nature of the proceedings.

At this stage in the game, the city is still in the pre-application phase. Within 12 to 18 months, it will officially submit its license application and go through a NEPA process, requiring either an environmental assessment document or an environmental impact statement. But at this point, the feds are interested in public and stakeholder comments on what else still needs to be done — as far as studies conducted or data collected — to fully understand the project’s environmental impacts, said meeting facilitator Pamela Britton of Community Engagement Associates, who was hired by the city.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Aspen: FERC is coming to town today to work on the permit for the proposed hydroelectric generation plant

April 10, 2012


From the Aspen Daily News (Curtis Wackerle):

There will also be a public meeting Tuesday evening with city and FERC officials to explain details of the project and take questions.

Beginning at 1 p.m.,, city officials will lead site visits to five locations associated with the new hydro project. The field trip will visit diversion facilities on Castle and Maroon creeks, where the city takes its water for consumptive and hydro power purposes. There will also be visits to the existing Maroon Creek hydro facility, the water treatment plant at Thomas Reservoir and the site of the proposed new hydro plant under the Castle Creek highway bridge. Registration for the field trip closed last week. About 30 people, including two FERC representatives in from Washington, D.C., are signed up to go along.

Beginning at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the Rio Grande conference room in the building above Taster’s Pizza, the city will hold a meeting open to the general public. The meeting’s purpose is to “present information and have a dialogue,” said David Hornbacher, the city’s director of utilities and environmental initiatives.

The meeting kicks off a 60-day comment period with the feds where the public is invited to weigh in on the project as FERC considers granting a license. The city is proposing to build a plant taking up to 52 cubic feet per second of water from Castle and Maroon creeks to feed a generator that could produce an average of 6.8 million kilowatt hours of electricity a year.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Aspen: Opponents of the proposed hydroelectric plant hope to install stream gages on Maroon and Castle creeks to bolster their argument

February 14, 2012


From the Aspen Daily News (Brent Gardner-Smith):

A stream gauge suitable for inclusion in the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) system cost between $20,000 and $35,000 to install, depending on the site, and $16,000 a year to operate. Saving Our Streams, a recently formed nonprofit that is challenging the city’s proposed hydro plant, wants at least one gauge on both Castle and Maroon creeks in order to keep an eye on how much water is left in the streams below the city’s diversion dams. Maureen Hirsch of Saving of Streams has contacted federal officials with the USGS, who have agreed to make a site visit this winter to the Aspen area…

For Our Rivers and Renewables, a new initiative from the Aspen-based Public Counsel of the Rockies, also wants gauges on those two streams. The group also is calling for new gauges on the Roaring Fork River in Aspen, on Hunter Creek and on the lower Crystal River. “It’s time to get the Roaring Fork River basin properly gauged,” said Tim McFlynn of Public Counsel for the Rockies. “It’s shockingly overdue.”

But the expense of doing so can be shocking as well. To install five streamflow gauges up to the standards of the USGS and to cover 10 years of operations and maintenance on them could cost $900,000…

Bill Blakeslee, the state water commissioner charged with managing local water diversions, said gauges are the best way to solve water disputes. “Anybody can produce a study, but without a consistent measuring device in the stream, everybody is just kind of blowing smoke,” he said. But Blakeslee warned that enthusiasm for new gauges tends to wane when it comes to paying for the ongoing maintenance and operational costs of them, which are prone to freezing up in the winter and need to be routinely checked.

Leaders from both Share Our Streams and For Our Rivers and Renewables say they are seeking funding for gauges from both private and public sources. Share Our Streams’ members include two billionaires and several other wealthy homeowners on Castle and Maroon creeks. Hirsch said one member already has agreed to fund one gauge.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

The Aspen Daily News is running a look at the parties suing the city over the proposed hydroelectric generation plant

January 6, 2012


Here’s a report from Brent Gardner-Smith writing for the Aspen Daily News. Click through and read the whole article for all the detail. Here’s an excerpt:

The city of Aspen, through its Denver-based water attorney, filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit this past fall based on the notion that the plaintiffs don’t have standing to challenge the city’s water rights.

The plaintiffs recently submitted information to the court either detailing their water rights or giving other reasons why they should be allowed to sue the city over its water rights.

In the mix of property owners are two billionaires and two Aspen locals with a history of successfully taking on local governments.

The property owners sued the city in September 2011 in state water court in an effort to strip the city of its right to use water from the creeks for a new hydropower plant.

The city responded three weeks later by telling Judge James Boyd that the property owners don’t have the right to make their claims.

“The complaint does not identify which plaintiffs own water rights, what water rights they may own, or how those are or may be affected with respect to the alleged abandonment of the hydropower component of the subject water rights,” Cindy Covell, the city’s water attorney, told the court in a motion to dismiss the case.

The plaintiffs responded Oct. 24 with a 14-page brief and 155 pages of exhibits documenting their water rights and other interests.

The plaintiffs claim that since the city has not used its hydropower water rights on the two creeks since 1961, it no longer has the right to divert 25 cubic-feet-per-second of water from Castle Creek and 27 cfs from Maroon Creek for hydropower use.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Aspen files preliminary paperwork with FERC for the proposed Castle Creek hydroelectric generation plant

December 22, 2011


From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

The filing is the first step in a formal review process that eventually could enable the town to produce about 8 percent of its needed electricity from a clean and local source — but the project is not without controversy, as some critics claim that the power generated by the facility isn’t worth the potential harm it could cause to Castle and Maroon creeks by reducing stream flows.

For the town, the Castle Creek project is a key component in providing renewable energy sources to the Aspen community. According to the town’s website, the energy center will not only provide power, but serve as a renewable energy model, education center and museum, reducing CO2 emissions by about 5,000 tons. The turbine and generator convert the force of water falling from 325 feet, from the Thomas Reservoir, into electric power. The water will travel a 42 inch penstock (pipe) which will supply the plant with approximately 52 cubic feet per second of head and double as an emergency drain line for the Thomas Reservoir if the reservoir walls are breached. The electricity will be placed on the City of Aspen electric grid to power the Water Treatment campus, and may potentially produce hydrogen for fuel cells and hydrogen vehicles.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Aspen: City council approves zoning for proposed Castle Creek hydroelectric generation plant

December 14, 2011


From The Aspen Times (Andre Salvail):

For nearly nine hours split between two meetings at Aspen City Hall on Monday, experts, consultants, residents and city officials debated the pros and cons of the proposed Castle Creek hydroelectric facility.

When the discourse was finally over at 10:20 p.m., the City Council voted unanimously to advance the project, conditionally approving a staff request to rezone property off Power Plant Road west of Aspen for a 1,761-square-foot building that would serve as the plant’s operations center. The vote also removes the land from the city’s open space inventory…

Council members heard from numerous opponents throughout the day, some of them landowners along the banks and within the watershed of Castle and Maroon creeks. An afternoon work session was designed to answer questions elected officials had about the project at large; the council’s regular meeting during the evening was supposed to focus only on the land-use request. In both instances, the public was allowed to comment…

The day began at 11:30 a.m., prior to the 1 p.m. work session, when representatives of the Washington, D.C.-based group American Rivers discussed a report it commissioned to evaluate the economic feasibility of the project.

The report, conducted by Tier One Capital Management LLC, questions the city’s estimate of $10.5 million for the project’s cost and puts the actual price tag at more than $16 million, citing interest payments on bonds used to finance construction. City officials have disputed the report and its conclusions, saying that it contains “egregious errors.”

At the work session, City Manager Steve Barwick discussed financial aspects of the plant and noted that the city need only spend a little more than $3 million more to complete the project. Most of that amount is for the building on Power Plant Road. An estimated $275,000 has been projected for handling the FERC application process.

Barwick stressed that the project is the best way to further the city’s goal of supplying 100 percent renewable energy through its electricity utility. He said every financial model shows that the new plant would save the community money in the long run.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Aspen: The city council will discuss the Castle Creek hydroelectric generation plant on Monday

December 11, 2011


From The Aspen Times (Andre Salvail):

Matt Rice, Colorado director for American Rivers, said his organization wasn’t trying to “drop a bomb” in advance of the city’s meetings. He said the report, released Thursday, was intended for council members, city officials and others involved in the debate over the merits of the project. Rice also expressed disdain for a press release the city issued Friday stating that the American Rivers-commissioned report contains “egregious errors.”[...]

A work session at 1 p.m. Monday is designed to give council members answers to some long-pressing questions surrounding the project; the council’s regular meeting Monday evening will include a public hearing on a zoning request for the proposed facility, dubbed the Castle Creek Energy Center.

At the core of the organization’s report, researched and prepared by Tier One Capital Management LLC, is an estimate that the project will cost between $16 million and $18 million, with $7.3 million in interest payments over the life of bonds used to finance construction. The city of Aspen has disclosed a capital cost of $10.5 million, according to Tier One.

The city’s financial analysis, Tier One claims, does not include debt service on the $5.5 million bond that local voters approved in 2007. “Debt service will add significantly to the cost of the project, and it is inappropriate not to consider debt service in assessing financial feasibility,” the report states.

“Tier One concludes that the project is not cost effective,” the report continues. “Given the very high price of this project and debt service extending for 28 years, future electrical rate increases are a likely result.”

The city’s Friday statement says that Tier One’s alternative analysis of the project’s costs includes “many factual errors and egregious mistakes.” The city listed what officials have determined to be “three of the most fundamental” errors:

— Tier One “incorrectly states that the city of Aspen didn’t consider debt service” in its analysis.

— Tier One’s conclusion that the project should be abandoned is deeply flawed “due to its failure to consider only the incremental costs needed to complete the project [as] opposed to considering investments already made with benefits for projects other than the hydro plant.”

— Tier One “assigned ridiculously low inflation rates” for the cost of coal -— a power source on which the city is hoping to lessen its dependence through hydropower — using rates between .3 percent and .6 percent annually.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Aspen: City Council approves application for a ‘minor water power project license’ from FERC

October 26, 2011


From the Aspen Daily News (Curtis Wackerle):

City Council on Monday voted unanimously to abandon its application for a “conduit exemption” in favor of a “minor water power project license” from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is a more rigorous review process. The city estimates that the change will mean an additional $250,000 in expenses…

Council also approved a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Colorado Division of Wildlife that aims to protect the riparian environment of the creeks. The MOU requires the city to maintain a minimum stream flow of 13.3 cfs below its existing diversion structure on Castle Creek, which will be used to siphon water for the hydro plant, and a minimum stream flow of 14 cfs in Maroon Creek below the diversion structure there.

The MOU, in trying to get at optimal stream health as opposed to minimum stream flows, also establishes a 10-year monitoring program. If macroinvertebrate population, fish population or biomass decreases, and they can be tied to hydro plant operations, the city will be required to take steps to reverse the damage to the creeks, including scaling back diversions, according to the MOU…

When Maureen Hirsch, who is one of eight plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed last month, suggested that permanent streamflow monitors be placed on the creek and that the monitoring go on for more than 10 years, Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland told her it would be very difficult to work with her and others who are suing the city.

“This is very hostile litigation,” Ireland said, holding up a copy of the complaint. “It’s very aggressive and divisive and I can’t say that I really appreciate it.”

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Aspen files motion to dismiss in hydroelectric power generation water rights case

October 11, 2011


From The Aspen Times (Andre Salvail):

The Oct. 5 motion states that Saving Our Streams, a nonprofit group made up of several local landowners that filed its complaint with the court in mid-September, has failed to “allege facts sufficient” to back up its claim.

According to the city’s motion, the SOS suit seeks a court judgment that Aspen abandoned one particular component — hydroelectric power production — of the municipal uses that accompany three separate water rights for Castle, Maroon and Midland creeks.

The city’s motion states that the three water rights were granted to various companies in the late 19th century for “municipal customers” and that the city acquired those rights in 1956. Those rights included “hydroelectric generation and domestic purposes” for Castle and Midland creeks, and were confirmed through a court decree in 1949.

The 1949 decree also confirms a water right for a diversion from Maroon Creek “in the amount of 65 cfs [cubic feet per second]” stemming from an appropriation in 1892, according to the motion.

The motion states that the SOS suit “does not identify which plaintiffs own water rights, what water rights they may own or how those water rights are or may be affected with respect to the alleged abandonment of the hydropower component” of the city’s water rights.

Further, “plaintiffs tacitly admit that some of them do not own or control any water rights,” the motion says. “If a plaintiff fails to allege or demonstrate that its rights, status or other legal relations will be affected, the plaintiff has no standing … and a declaratory judgment should not be entered.”

Also, the SOS suit fails to meet the law’s “injury-in-fact requirement” in which the challenged conduct of a defendant causes or threatens to cause injury to the plaintiff’s present or imminent activities.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

In a lawsuit filed last Thursday ‘Saving Our Streams’ is claiming the the City of Aspen has effectively abandoned their hydroelectric power generation right on Castle and Maroon creeks

September 18, 2011


From The Aspen Times (Andre Salvail):

Saving Our Streams, an environmental organization whose stated mission is to support local streams and to ensure that diversions of water do not compromise the health of fragile ecosystems, filed the lawsuit. The group was formed in February.

The lawsuit, which seeks to stop the city from moving forward with plans for a hydroelectric plant, was not unexpected. One of the plaintiffs, Aspen businessman Dick Butera, suggested during a City Council meeting in late June that it was likely.

Other plaintiffs are: Yasmine Depagter, Maureen Hirsch, Joseph and Sheila Cosniac, Kit Goldsbury, Elk Mountain Lodge LLC, Crystal LLC, American Lake LLC, Ashcroft LLC, B&C LLC and the Bruce E. Carlson Trust. They all own property along or adjacent to the creeks.

More coverage from Curtis Wackerle writing for the Aspen Daily News. From the article:

The suit, filed Thursday on behalf of 11 plaintiffs, claims the city has “abandoned” its water rights for hydropower. The six-page complaint, filed in state water court in Glenwood Springs by Aspen attorneys Paul Noto and Danielle Luber, cites the decommissioning of the city’s original Castle Creek hydropower station, which was in use from about 1893 until 1958. “Aspen has shown its intent to abandon the hydropower use decreed [to the Castle and Maroon creek water rights] by not using the water right for this purpose for over 50 years,” the complaint says…

City officials said the suit is without merit. Cynthia Covell, a Denver lawyer who works on water rights issues for the city, was out of town Thursday, but she has looked into questions on the validity of the city’s water rights for hydropower in the past.

“We are confident that our water rights have not been abandoned,” City Attorney John Worcester said, adding that discussions about developing hydropower again on Castle Creek “have been kicked around for the 20-plus years I’ve been here.”

The city has 20 days to respond to the suit.

The city’s water rights on the creeks date back to the 1880s in some cases. The lawsuit cites three separate water rights — the Castle Creek Flume Ditch, the Midland Flume Ditch and the Maroon Ditch — that together account for 160 cfs on Castle Creek and 65 cfs on Maroon Creek, that the city is entitled to use for domestic and hydropower purposes, among other municipal uses. These are the water rights that the city uses for its drinking water…

Saving Our Streams, a nonprofit group started by Maureen Hirsch and Yasmine Depagter, is listed as a plaintiff, as are Hirsch and Depagter individually. The other plaintiffs are: Dick Butera, Joseph and Sheila Cosniac, Kit Goldsbury, the Bruce E. Carlson Trust, B&C LLC, Elk Mountain Lodge LLC, Crystal LLC, Ashcroft LLC and American Lake LLC. The Bruce E. Carlson Trust and B&C LLC own property on Maroon Creek…

“It’s an open mystery why someone would be concerned about water being diverted eight miles downstream from them,” Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland said, noting that the water the city would take for the hydro plant would return to the river about two miles downstream after passing through the penstock and turbine.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Restoration: Hope Mine biochar application has yielded surprising results

September 11, 2011


From the Colorado Independent (Troy Hooper):

What was once a wasteland of arsenic, cadmium, lead and zinc on a steep mountainside that abuts Castle Creek is now a haven for natural grasses and wildflowers that have stabilized the slope and drastically reduced the risk of the heavy metals crashing into the city’s main water supply.

The striking change of scenery around Hope Mine is the result of the first whole-scale reclamation project ever attempted in the United States, and possibly the world, using biochar — a type of charcoal produced through the thermal treatment of organic material in an oxygen-limited environment.

how aggressive the regrowth was,” said John Bennett, executive director of For The Forest, which teamed up with Carbondale-based Flux Farm Foundation at the request of the U.S. Forest Service, which is exploring new ways to partner with private groups to reclaim landscapes. “We did not expect waist-high grass in the very first summer. We thought it would take longer.”

Not only is biochar restoring the ecology and containing the mine tailings that fan down toward Castle Creek but experts say it is also immobilizing the heavy metals long enough so that they naturally degrade and it is sequestering carbon that would otherwise escape into the earth’s atmosphere.

Click through for the rest of the article and the cool before and after photos.

More coverage from Chadwick Bowman writing for The Aspen Times. From the article:

“This project is going better than I would have dared hoped,” John Bennett, executive director of For the Forest, an Aspen-based nonprofit focused on forest health, said Thursday during a press conference at the site.

The reclamation of the slope, south of Aspen in the Castle Creek Valley, became more pressing when it was discovered that very low levels if toxic metals had been sliding into the creek, a source of Aspen’s drinking water.

Even though the levels of toxins were minute, the reclamation plan was intended to prevent a potential landslide on a mine tailings pile — debris left from mineral extraction — that could add poisons into the creek.

“The Forest Service turned us on to the project because it’s their land,” said Kate Holstein, program director of For the Forest. “They told us there is a situation where this big slope is continually eroding into Castle Creek. … If a large erosion were to occur where the whole slope slid into the creek, it could be catastrophic.”

Holstein said such a landslide could shut down the Castle Creek water source potentially for years…

Forty-two test plots were laid out at the site; each contains different variations of biochar mixed with soil and seeds, as well as control plots that contain no biochar. Williams said there are significant differences between the plots, and that biochar is making growth happen.

More restoration coverage here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: Aspen’s Maroon Creek micro-hydroelectric plant generates 2.7 percent of the city’s supply on average

July 12, 2011

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From the Aspen Daily News (Curtis Wackerle):

Total capital costs on the plant, from the original construction through today, including the Deane buyout, equal $1.33 million, according to the city. Combined with operating costs of $182,500 since 1994, that brings total Maroon Creek plant expenses to $1.51 million…

Since the new turbine was installed and the necessary repairs completed, Maroon Creek hydro has supplied an average of 2.7 percent of the city electric utility’s power. Numerous factors, including natural streamflow and maintenance issues, determine how much power the plant can generate on an annual basis, but the number has reached as high as 2.27 million kwh in 2007 and as low as 1.1 million kwh in 2010…

The city transfers the electricity to the Holy Cross Energy grid, and is given a credit for the power on its monthly bill from the Nebraska utility — the Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska (MEAN). Over the life of the plant, the price the city has paid for MEAN power averages out at 3.8 cents per kwh, which brings the value of the Maroon Creek energy transfer at $990,000 since 1994. The price of MEAN power — and thus the city’s reimbursement rate for its hydropower — continues to rise and currently averages about 5.5 cents per kwh, Overeynder said. The city also saves money from the power it generates by not being charged “wheeling” and “facilities” fees. Wheeling refers to the cost of transferring MEAN power from Nebraska, and the Maroon Creek plant has saved $107,136 in those fees over the 16 years since good records have been kept…

When the plant was originally proposed, environmental concerns about streamflow were raised, just as they have been with the current Castle Creek plan. The city ended up amending its original proposal for the Maroon Creek plant, which would have left a minimum of 8 cfs in the creek, upping the minimum streamflow to 14 cfs.

More hydroelectric coverage here

and here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: Aspen’s water rights for their proposed project are in question

July 10, 2011

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From Aspen Journalism via the Aspen Daily News (Brent Gardner-Smith):

“The city of Aspen water department does not have the water rights for a hydro plant on Castle Creek, period,” Dick Butera told Aspen City Council at a June 27 meeting. Butera owns a large home overlooking Castle Creek just below the city’s diversion dam on the stream. He told the council that he and a group of other local landowners are willing to sue the city to prevent the hydro project from going forward.

Butera made his comments at a meeting when council approved increasing the spending authority for the hydro plant and an associated pipeline from $7.3 million to $8 million, and transferring $2.8 million from the water fund to the renewable energy fund to cover the cost. “Two of the leading water attorneys in the state of Colorado have both said to our committee that we have a 90 percent chance of winning the case to prove that the water department does not even have the water rights,” Butera said.

But Aspen’s water attorney maintains that the municipal government’s water rights remain in good standing and the city has never intended to abandon its option to use the water for hydropower. “The city has decreed absolute water rights,” said Cynthia Covell, an attorney with Alperstein and Covell in Denver. “They are decreed for power purposes and they have never been found to be abandoned in any court proceeding. I think that the city can do the project that it wants to do with the water rights it has.”[...]

Sarah Klahn, an attorney hired by Pitkin County to independently review the city’s hydro project, said last week that even if an abandonment lawsuit was successful, the city could still likely obtain new water rights for the new hydro plant. “I know that it is possible to still get a new appropriation, especially on a non-consumptive use,” said Klahn, who is with White & Jankowski in Denver…

Covell, the city’s water attorney, has a different take on the matter. “The fact that the city stopped generating electricity at that time does not mean they abandoned the right to do so,” Covell said. “The city has not intended to abandon. And intent is a piece of abandonment. We think we can defend an abandonment case.” Still, city officials are aware there is a danger of losing all or some of their water rights by not exercising them.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Energy policy hydroelectric: Aspen’s proposed generation plant update — city utilities is asking council for $1.02 million budget increase

June 29, 2011

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From the Aspen Daily News (Curtis Wackerle):

The original project budget in 2007 was $6.19 million. An analysis of city records shows that increases in the budget for the pipeline makes up $1.19 million of the difference between the 2007 budget at the current requested budget authority.

The pipeline, which was mostly constructed last summer, would feed up to 52-cubic-feet per second of water into a hydroelectric generator located in the proposed “energy center” under the Castle Creek Bridge. The pipeline was originally budgeted for $1.9 million, meaning it’s cost have risen by about one-third. The city is also installing the pipeline as a precautionary measure, as it can serve as an “emergency drainline” to empty the reservoir should it ever get too full. Thomas Reservoir stores water for the municipal consumption and is located above the water treatment plant on Doolittle Drive, near the Aspen Valley Hospital.

The cost of the pipeline increased because of challenges encountered during construction, city utilities director David Hornbacher said. The alignment had to be rerouted numerous times to get around utility lines the city didn’t know were there, and the work had to be modified as required by a state permit, he said…

While most of the hydro plant’s budget overruns to date have been driven by hard costs, the big variable in ongoing expenditures is the federal permitting process.

The city recently said it would withdraw its controversial “conduit exemption” application in favor of going for the more standard small project license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The conduit exemption — which would have required a less-stringent environmental review — was based on the premise that the plant would be part of the municipal water system because it would be attached to the pipe ostensibly put in to drain Thomas Reservoir.

The FERC license requires an environmental assessment, requiring more time and money than the city had originally planned. The formal license application is expected to be submitted this summer.

More coverage from Andre Salvali writing for The Aspen Times. From the article:

“I’ve been in Aspen long enough to know the truism, ‘to delay is to deny,’ ” Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland said, in reference to one speaker’s idea that the city should switch gears and explore other ways of tackling the project.

“I think there are opponents of this project who absolutely, under no circumstance, want to see it happen. The strategy in Aspen has traditionally been, ‘Well, we’ll get a new council in two years and we’ll get a new outcome.’ And we have had things in Aspen that should have been done 30 or 40 years ago because of the strategy of delay.”

Ireland and others were participating in “Hydropower in Aspen” at the Aspen Institute’s Paepcke Building. The presentation and panel discussion, which allowed questions from the audience, was hosted by the Western Rivers Institute, a Carbondale-based nonprofit that advocates healthy rivers and ecologically responsible development of hydropower…

Earlier in the forum, Ireland said the city’s plans respect the ecosystems of Castle and Maroon creeks. He said the renewable-energy project will be another way in which Aspen sets an example for other communities by working to reduce the carbon footprint and its dependency on coal-generated power.

More hydroelectric coverage here.

Pitkin County: Hope Mine restoration project update

June 28, 2011

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From The Aspen Times (Janet Urquhart):

Hints of possible success poked through the landscape this spring, where three cameras are snapping photos every three hours while there’s daylight, capturing what will become time-lapse footage of native grasses taking hold in the challenging landscape. Or not. Though pockets of green dot the expansive tailings pile now, it’s too early to predict any lasting success, according to the man keeping close tabs on the vegetation’s progress. “The next question is how these seedlings will survive in the next few months, over the heat of the summer,” said Morgan Williams, executive director of the Flux Farm Foundation. The organization has an interest in a broader application of the methods used at the Hope Mine — advancing the viability of agriculture in the West…

On the flat area atop the tailings pile, thick grass has filled in among dandelions. The steepest slopes of the pile are showing the least amount of new growth, but other areas are greener, and 42 test plots on a more gently sloping area of the mine waste are producing even more telling results. Revegetating the tailings pile involved the placement of biodegradable netting to hold the application in place; it was covered by a seed mix, compost, biochar, hydromulch and naturally occurring mycorrhizal fungi, which help plant roots take in nutrients, particularly in sterile soils. Most of the pile received the same treatment, but in the 7-by-7-foot test plots, each delineated with orange flags poking upward among the grasses, the mix of components is varied. The idea is to identify the optimal mixture, Williams explained. Already, some plots are faring better than others. On test plots that received no application of the growth mixture, the difference is startling. They are essentially bare…

So far, Williams has noted a considerable difference in the condition of the test plots that contain biochar versus those that don’t. On a recent afternoon, with the sun baking the southwest-facing slope, the soil temperature in one test plot treated with biochar was 58 degrees. It’s moisture level stood at 12 percent. Six feet away, on a plot that had not received any application, the soil temperature was 79 degrees and the moisture content was 3 percent. While the monitoring of the Hope Mine reclamation is ongoing, Williams is already a believer in biochar, joining Denver-based soil scientist Andrew Harley in a business venture, Biochar Solutions Inc. Harley was a consultant on the Hope Mine project…

The public will have a chance to see the reclamation project on July 23, during a field trip to the Hope Mine hosted by For the Forest and the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. The cost is $15 for ACES members and $20 for non-members. Go to to register and for more information.

More restoration coverage here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: Aspen plans to draw down Thomas Reservoir this summer for construction of new outlet and penstock

May 22, 2011

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From the Aspen Daily News (Curtis Wackerle):

Beginning in July, the city will empty the reservoir, which stores water for the municipal water treatment plant on Doolittle Drive. It will remain dry for about three months, said Dave Hornbacher, the city’s deputy director of utilities and environmental initiatives…

Most of the $2.3 million 42-inch pipeline, running from the reservoir to the site of the proposed plant, was constructed last summer and fall. Crews still need to install the final 200 feet of pipe leading up to the earthen dam. They will then bore through the dam, build an intake structure and hook up the pipe. The state of Colorado’s Division of Water Resources granted a permit for the work this spring. That permit also requires the city to upgrade a spillway on the east side of the reservoir, so there will be even more capacity to release water form the reservoir in case levels rise too high.

The pipeline is a crucial part of the city’s proposed hydroelectric plant. Voters in 2007 approved $5.5 million in bonds — with a maximum repayment of $10.7 million — to build the plant, which would be located under the Castle Creek Bridge. The pipeline would feed up to 52 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water into a turbine, generating up to 8 percent of the municipal utility’s electricity needs.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: $50,000 allocated from Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers and Streams Fund to fund development of a diversion protocol for the proposed Castle Creek hydroelectric plant

May 15, 2011

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From The Aspen Times:

The result will be something that can be applied to other transbasin diversions, according to John Ely, county attorney. The city’s project, which would divert water from Maroon Creek that would not be returned, constitutes a transbasin transfer of water, he said…

The information will be useful when additional diversions are proposed in the headwaters of Pitkin County, predicted Commissioner Rachel Richards. And, she said, the city contributes to the tax revenue that supports the Healthy Rivers and Streams fund.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: Two Aspen city councillors as well as the mayor are looking for a more stringent environmental review for the proposed Castle Creek generation plant

April 17, 2011

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From the Aspen Daily News (Curtis Wackerle):

At least two Aspen City Council members have voiced support for the municipal government to withdraw its application to the federal government for a conduit exemption on the proposed Castle/Maroon creek hydroplant. Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland is instead proposing the city seek a license for a “small hydro facility of 5 megawatts or less,” which is a separate designation offered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and would require a more stringent environmental review, Ireland said.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: Accuracy of Pitkin County’s streamflow data in question

February 19, 2011

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From The Aspen Daily News (Curtis Wackerle):

Boulder firm AMEC Earth and Environmental, hired by Pitkin County, found that the city may have overestimated stream-flows by as much as 30 percent at the diversion points where water would be taken out of Castle and Maroon creeks to feed the hydroplant. “If such an error exists and is ignored,” wrote Tim McFlynn, who has been organizing the mediation effort, “hydropower and revenue generation would be overestimated and healthy bypass flows in streams would be similarly impacted.”

The closed-door mediation session was scheduled for Feb. 8 in an attempt to bridge the gap between supporters and opponents of the project. But comments from the panel of experts hired by the county’s Healthy Rivers and Streams board for $50,000, which were submitted to the city two weeks ago, have prompted facilitators to take a time-out.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers and Streams Board is concerned with Aspen’s proposed Castle Creek hydroelectric plan

January 23, 2011

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From The Aspen Times (Janet Urquhart):

The board, which met Monday, forwarded a two-page letter to David Hornbacher, the city’s deputy director of utilities and renewable energy, on Friday — the final day the city was accepting comments on its draft application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the hydro plant. Attached were 58 pages of attachments comprising the analyses of four experts hired by the county rivers board to review the city’s studies of the project. The county spent $50,000 on the review, which involved a Denver water attorney, Boulder engineering consulting firm, an aquatic specialist based in Eagle and a Telluride firm hired to review the expected energy output of the plant.

“We have significant concerns about the health and quantity of the waters in Castle and Maroon creeks,” said the board’s letter, signed by Chairman Greg Poschman. “The city’s hydroelectric project represents a potential conflict with the mission of our board.”

Among the board’s suggestions: The city should define and preserve a “healthy” streamflow as opposed to merely adhering to minimum streamflows.

The board also called on the city to make a legal commitment to maintain stream quality and quantity throughout the year as part of its operation of the hydro plant, and concluded that more complete data is needed over a longer period of time in order to assess the impacts associated with the hydroelectric facility.

Aspen is seeking a “conduit exemption” from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for its project. Such exemptions, granted for small hydroelectric projects that use infrastructure that is primarily used for other purposes, involve less onerous environmental reviews.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Restoration: Biochar for mine cleanups?

January 12, 2011

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From the High Country News weblog The Range (Heather Hansen):

[A] possible solution, currently being field-tested by a non-profit based in Carbondale, may change the reclamation landscape entirely. Since 2007, the Flux Farm Foundation has been working on reclamation with a promising substance known as biochar. Biochar is made by burning biomass (like wood, animal and crop waste) in an oxygen-limited environment, resulting in a stable form of carbon that has superior water- and nutrient-retention abilities.

These characteristics make it an ideal candidate to restore moonscape-like mine sites, where vegetation (that could capture toxic metals leaching out of abandoned mines and into waterways) is long gone.

Using biochar to reduce metal toxicity and to boost the fertility of compromised soil isn’t a new concept, but using it clean up mines is. The Mountain Studies Institute, based in Silverton, has done some small-scale biochar trials on mine lands in the San Juan Mountains, but Flux Farm’s Hope Mine Project is the first time an entire mine has been taken on.

More restoration coverage here. More biochar coverage here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: Public comment period for proposed Aspen hydropower project closes January 18

December 28, 2010

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From the Aspen Daily News (Curtis Wackerle):

While only two comments having been submitted so far — both in favor of the project, which could generate power for up to 600 homes — a committee of experts hired by Pitkin County’s tax-supported Healthy Rivers and Streams Board is in the process of reviewing thousands of pages of documents on the proposed hydro facility. The board is aiming to complete its report in advance of the Jan. 18 deadline for comments on the draft application. The public has a 90-day window to submit comments to the city on the draft application, which was filed in mid-October. Once comments have been submitted, the city will consider them prior to finalizing its application to FERC. “The idea behind that is once we’ve had the 90 days, we’ll take those comments, and if there are any comments that might constitute making a change to the application, we would make those revisions,” City of Aspen Deputy Director of Utilities and Environmental Initiatives Dave Hornbacher said, adding that nothing has come in yet that would lead to any changes.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

The Colorado River District is kicking off a grant program for water resources projects

December 1, 2010

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From email from the Colorado River Water Conservation District (Martha Moore):

The Colorado River District is accepting grant applications for projects that protect, enhance or develop water resources within the 15-county area covered by the District. This includes all watersheds in north- and central- western Colorado, except the San Juan River basin.

Eligible projects must achieve one or more of the following:

- develop a new water supply

- improve an existing system

- improve instream water quality

- increase water use efficiency

- reduce sediment loading

- implement watershed management actions

- control tamarisk

- protect pre-1922 Colorado River Compact water rights

Past projects have included the construction of new water storage, the enlargement of existing water storage or diversion facilities, rehabilitation of non-functioning or restricted water resource structures and implementation of water efficiency measures and other watershed improvements. Such projects that utilize pre-1922 water rights will be given additional ranking priority over similar projects that do not. Each project will be ranked based upon its own merits in accordance with published ranking criteria.

Eligible applicants can receive up to a maximum of $150,000 ((or approximately 25% of the total project cost whichever is less, in the case of smaller projects this percentage may be slightly higher) for their project. The total grant pool for 2011 is $250,000. Application deadline is Jan. 31, 2011.

More Colorado River basin coverage here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: Aspen hydroelectric plant application filed with FERC

October 19, 2010

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From the Aspen Daily News (Curtis Wackerle):

The city on Friday submitted its draft application for a conduit exemption to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). A conduit exemption would waive the formal FERC licensing process, which would likely include an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement.

The 521-page document explains why city officials believe the project qualifies for the conduit exemption.

It contains a report from Miller Ecological Consultants, which states that a minimum stream flow of 13.3 cubic feet per second (cfs) would be sufficient to maintain a healthy Castle Creek. It also contains intergovernmental agreements regarding stream monitoring and in-stream flows with the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). It also includes about a dozen letters that have been filed in opposition to the conduit exemption…

Conduit exemptions are granted for small hydroelectric projects — defined as 15 megawatts or less — that use infrastructure that is not primarily intended for the generation of hydroelectricity. City officials claim that standard is met by a drainline currently under construction from Thomas Reservoir to Castle Creek near the site of the proposed hydro plant. City officials say the 4,000-foot-long drainline, approved in April at a cost of $2.3 million, is a necessary safety feature for Thomas Reservoir, which lacks adequate discharge capacity if there was ever an emergency. But the drainline also would be a “penstock” to feed water from the reservoir into a hydroelectric turbine in the proposed building underneath the Castle Creek Bridge…

A conduit exemption also requires that water used to generate electricity be discharged back into a conduit, into a point of municipal consumption or into a natural body of water if the same amount of water is re-diverted further downstream for municipal purposes. The application, prepared by Boulder law firm Dietze and Davis, states that discharging the water from the hydro plant into Castle Creek sustains an “in-stream flow” water right held by the CWCB. The in-stream flow constitutes a “point of municipal consumption,” according to the application. To come to that conclusion, the application argues that the CWCB is a municipality as defined by FERC. Further, the application cites case law which found that municipal consumption does not necessarily mean physically removing water from a river or stream…

By returning the water to the stream to meet a minimum stream flow requirement, the city and the water conservation board fulfill a municipal purpose, according to the application. The document, while arguing that it meets the discharge requirement, simultaneously asks for a waiver from that provision. “It’s just a belt and suspenders approach,” Kumli said. “We’re being careful to use FERC law in a manner that is fair [and consistent] with the way FERC approves hydroelectric projects.”[...]

Meanwhile, the Aspen City Council is considering whether to grant local land use approval for the hydro plant. Public hearings on the project began this summer, but have been tabled while a group of citizens and Pitkin County’s Healthy Rivers and Streams Board undertakes further study of the project. A group of citizens also is attempting to convene mediation meetings between project opponents — some of whom are considering lawsuits if the hydro plant is approved — and the city.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Castle Creek: Hope Mine restoration project is test bed for biochar

October 7, 2010

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From the Aspen Daily News (Andrew Travers):

The effort at Hope Mine could mark a new, carbon-negative approach to reclamation projects on the 23,000 abandoned mines in Colorado’s forests. Carbondale’s Flux Farm Foundation and Axe Trucking are providing technical assistance for the undertaking, which will use biochar to re-vegetate the area and restore soil ravaged by tailings and heavy metals left behind by miners. Biochar is a charcoal-like substance made from heated biomass. It is used to both increase the health of the soil it’s mixed into and to sequester carbon emitted by grass, shrubs and trees…

“Our project intends to show, for the first time, that biochar can be successfully used at scale to reclaim a former mine site,” said Flux Farm director Morgan Williams. “This is a big opportunity for Aspen to make a meaningful contribution to the science of biochar.”

The Hope Mine project is being funded with $90,000 of For The Forest money. The non-profit, founded by former Aspen Mayor John Bennett, for the last two summers also has partnered with the forest service, City of Aspen and Pitkin County to treat and remove trees on Smuggler Mountain hit by bark pine beetle infestation. Bennett said he hopes eventually to process local beetle-killed trees into biochar for local mine reclamation projects — essentially using one forest problem to solve another…

Work on the site begins Sunday, with a volunteer effort launched to coincide with the “10/10/10 Global Work Party,” an outreach campaign by the climate change awareness website A geochemist will assist volunteers and Flux Farm’s Williams with laying out 10-foot-by-10-foot “test plots” on the site, trying out various recipes of biochar, compost and other materials in the soil. They have planned seven days of work to follow, including more compost/biochar mixing, treating mine tailings and hydro-mulching.

More restoration coverage here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: The Pitkin County Healthy Rivers Fund board is ponying up $15,000 for mediation around Aspen’s proposed hydroelectric plan

October 1, 2010

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From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Aaron Hedge):

The board wants to bring in independent contractors to find a middle ground between the city and a number of Pitkin County residents who have voiced concerns that the project will have deleterious effects on Castle and Maroon creeks, where flows would be reduced to feed the hydropower plant…

Ruthie Brown, chairwoman of the Healthy Rivers and Streams Board, said the mediation will bring in a “whole crew of experts in the field.” She declined Tuesday to talk in further detail about the personnel involved in the initiative because the board is still negotiating with contractors. “In three or four days, we will have a lot more information that we can go public with,” she said.

A county memo regarding the $15,000 expenditure says the “review process would be in conjunction with valley nonprofits and other public citizen boards.” The memo also indicates the expenditure will allow an independent review of the hydrology and other information the city has used regarding the project’s impacts on Castle and Maroon creeks.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: The Aspen City Council has put off the decision about the Castle Creek hydroelectric plant until October 12

September 14, 2010

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From The Aspen Times (Aaron Hedge):

The decision to extend the conversation comes after the city received a significant amount of feedback from residents who live along the stream saying the project will have disastrous effects on the ecosystem there…

Mayor Mick Ireland decided to postpone the vote after the City Council visited the site of the proposed hydropower building on Thursday. “There’s several people … who have approached us about having a stakeholder’s process” to find a middle ground between the city and residents who are opposed to the initiative, Ireland said. The city’s utilities department drew Maroon Creek down to 14 cubic feet per second (cfs) on Tuesday, which is the level Castle Creek will run at for about six months of the year if the project is approved. The average level the stream runs at currently is about 50 cfs, but it plummets to about 14 cfs for the months of February and March. At peak runoff, it holds up to 975 cfs…

Aspen officials say the health of the stream will remain intact, citing a city-commissioned environmental impact study of Castle Creek done by Bill Miller, of Miller Environmental Consultants. The study concluded that the stream would remain healthy as long as it doesn’t go below 13.3 cfs…

The project would take 25 cfs from 2 1/2 miles of Castle Creek and 27 cfs from Maroon Creek. All that water would return to Castle Creek about 300 feet above its merging point with the Roaring Fork River.

More coverage from The Aspen Times (Aaron Hedge):

The main incentive the city cites in building the hydropower plant is that it would save the city from paying energy fees to a Nebraska power authority. The project, they say, would localize Aspen’s energy economy and move it closer to its goal of becoming completely carbon-neutral. But City Manager Steve Barwick said if the city were to divert less water from Castle Creek than originally planned — not letting it go below 19 cfs — the project would still have a huge economic benefit. The city has already spent about $400,000 on the project, building a drainline from Thomas Reservoir that would feed the power turbines, as well as purchasing the turbines for the power plant, which would be located under the Highway 82 bridge that spans Castle Creek on Power Plant Road.

More coverage from the Aspen Daily News (Curtis Wackerle):

What the city hasn’t put off is developing infrastructure for the project, which still requires a permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, as well as land use approval by the City Council.

The penstock — a steel reinforced pipe that would carry water from Thomas Reservoir to the hydro plant’s turbine — has been under construction all summer. City officials maintain, however, that the pipe also serves as an emergency drainline for Thomas Reservoir, which has more water coming into it than could be drained if something happened to the dam. That project is costing the city $2.3 million.

In addition, the city already has ordered the turbine which would generate the power at the yet-to-be-approved “Castle Creek Energy Center,” public works director Phil Overeynder told council at Monday’s meeting. He has said previously that the turbine costs $1.4 million, which includes a pressure releasing valve.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: Aspen Planners to draw down Maroon Creek as demonstration project for proposed hydroelectric plant

September 7, 2010

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From the Aspen Daily News (Curtis Wackerle):

Water levels in Maroon Creek will be drawn down from the current flow of about 50 cubic feet per second to 14 cfs on Tuesday and Thursday this week as the city of Aspen demonstrates the “look and feel” of a stream running near the minimum rate associated with the proposed Castle Creek hydropower project. The demonstrations are technically site visits with Aspen City Council members, and thus are public meetings…

Maroon Creek has a state-mandated minimum instream flow of 14 cfs. The site visit is intended to allow council members to observe the “look and feel of a stream at those levels,” Hornbacher said.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: Governor Ritter Announces Acceleration Of Small Hydro Projects in Colorado

August 30, 2010

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From The Aspen Times (Aaron Hedge):

It’s too early to tell, however, if that would be a good route for Aspen and its proposed Castle Creek hydroelectric plant, for which the city utilities department plans to seek an exemption from the agency. City spokeswoman Sally Spaulding said the pilot program announced by Gov. Bill Ritter, which would establish a partnership with the federal government, would probably not accommodate the timeline the city is pursuing with the project…

Exemptions are available for projects that would generate five or more megawatts of power or projects that utilize existing pipelines that feed other water usage, such as Aspen’s Thomas Reservoir, which provides residents with drinking water…

Any projects in Ritter’s new program will have to be implemented via existing infrastructure, according to the MOU [between Colorado and FERC]…

City Council indicated earlier this month that it would support the exemption, but asked for more information on how the health of the stream would be maintained after the project is built. David Hornbacher, project director, said the city would conduct yearly studies modeled from a baseline Colorado Division of Wildlife review of the stream after the plant starts operating. The investigation would determine whether the project will damage the stream. The hydropower project would divert 25 cubic feet per second through an existing pipeline from water-intake facilities on Castle and Maroon creeks to Thomas Reservoir. The water would all return to Castle Creek about 300 feet above its confluence with the Roaring Fork River. To qualify for FERC exemption, a hydropower project must allow the water to return to the body it came from or be used again for non-hydropower purposes. Spaulding said that, either way, the water all eventually runs into the Roaring Fork River.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: How will Aspen’s proposed hydroelectric plant on Castle Creek effect streamflow?

August 22, 2010

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From The Aspen Times (Aaron Hedge):

Now, with a deal pending to build a new hydropower plant on the same property that would take 52 cubic feet per second (cfs) from both streams, environmentalists and property owners along the affected shoreline say there’s no way to be certain the streams will sustain fish populations and thus remain healthy. If the City Council approves the project, the city plans to divert 25 cfs from Castle Creek, and 27 cfs from Maroon Creek…

As part of the city’s Canary Initiative — an ambitious effort to become carbon-neutral by 2020 — the hydro project is expected in the next decade to save the city $41,000 a year in energy that it would no longer have to purchase from other power authorities. After that decade, when the $3.92 million in bonds for the project are paid off, the city would save twice that amount, said project director David Hornbacher…

Currently, Castle Creek stays at about 14 cfs in February and March, before starting to rise in the spring. The plant would shut down during winter to maintain the minimum flow, and other power resources, including the Ruedi Reservoir hydropower plant and electricity Aspen buys from a Nebraska power authority, would pick up the load. During other times of the year, Castle Creek typically runs between 50 and 70 cfs. But if the project is implemented, the diversions could extend Castle Creek’s low-water period by four months, calling into question how long the stream can sustain itself, and sustain all the creatures that depend on it, at that level…

The city has yet to apply for permission from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which requires an environmental impact study, to construct the line. In a statement to the City Council this month, project staff recommended that the city not apply for a FERC license because, “Preparation of a an EIS would … delay the project, add to the cost of the project, and jeopardize the project economics.”

More coverage from The Aspen Times (Aaron Hedge). From the article:

City funding for a drainage line from Thomas Reservoir to Castle Creek could go away for the second phase of the construction next year if the Aspen City Council denies the proposed Castle Creek hydropower project, said Phil Overeynder, the city’s public works director. The approximate $2.3 million for the line comes partially from $5.5 million in bonds the city applied for after voters approved the construction of the hydropower plant in 2007. Approximately $126,700 of that money will come from utilities department coffers. The project’s total cost is nearly $6.2 million. The remaining funds will come from a grant of $400,000 and various other sources, Overeynder said. There is no guarantee that the project will stay within that budget, but about $800,000 has been added to it for unforeseen expenditures, according to the City Council application…

The city would have to buy less coal energy from a Nebraska power authority if the plant is approved, project manager David Hornbacher said last week. If the project is not approved, the line will simply empty into Castle Creek just below the Power Plant Road bridge. Efforts to finish the drain line have to wait on approval of the hydropower project because if it is approved, the end of the drain will undergo a completely different construction process, Overeynder said. Either way, the water returns to the stream, through the Penstock drain line if the project is struck down, or through a square concrete tube from the plant to Castle Creek if it is approved. None of the water taken from Maroon Creek will return to it. The hydropower plant is part of the city’s Canary Initiative, a goal to reduce carbon emissions from the city’s energy consumption to zero by 2020. It would draw 52 cubic feet per second from Castle and Maroon creeks. But the drain line will be completed either way, Overeynder said, because the Thomas Reservoir dam poses a threat to the Twin Ridge residential development just down the hill from it. A safety study of the dam, conducted in 1989, said the reservoir posed no public hazard. The Twin Ridge development was not yet built.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: Aspen’s proposed Castle Creek hydroelectric power generation facility update

August 10, 2010

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From the Aspen Daily News (Curtis Wackerle):

The [Aspen City Council] did not vote on an ordinance at Monday’s meeting that would approve a new building on Power Plant Road which would house a turbine for a new hydroelectric power-generating facility. Instead, council members wanted more information on current streamflows in Castle Creek and more details on how much water would be removed from the creek and when to run the plant. That water would be discharged back into the creek below the hydro facility…

A primary issue is a study from Miller Ecological Consultants that finds that 13.3 cubic feet per second is the minimum amount of water that can be left in the creek to support a healthy environment. The maximum amount of water that the hydro power plant can use is 25 cfs. There seemed to be confusion around what duration of time the creek would be lowered to the minimum streamflow of 13.3 cfs. Council members sought clarity on this issue before they could vote.

Councilman Torre suggested that perhaps the city could develop minimum streamflows that vary by month, since in-stream flows fluctuate throughout the year. Torre said he wanted to move forward on the project, but only if he was assured that the stream would not be jeopardized. “I think we can have both,” he said. He also added that he didn’t think he fully understood the implications of the project when he voted for it…

One of the city’s main points in favor of the hydro facility is that it uses city water rights that could otherwise be claimed by other parties. If a senior water right holder does not use that right, those rights can be considered abandoned under Colorado water law…

“I don’t trust the Front Range,” [Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland] said.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: Proposed Aspen hydroelectric plant update

July 6, 2010

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From the Aspen Daily News (Curtis Wackerle):

The city of Aspen is about $3.3 million into the Castle Creek hydroelectric project so far, with officials hoping to apply this summer for federal permission to construct the power facility. The project, if granted a “conduit exemption” by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, is expected to remain within its $6.19 million budget, Aspen public works director Phil Overeynder said. “The unknown cost is permitting and what it will take to complete the permitting,” Overeynder said.

The conduit exemption would allow the city to bypass the more complex federal licensing process. In deciding whether or not the city qualifies, FERC “puts a high degree of deference” to state agencies which monitor natural resources, such as the Colorado Division of Wildlife, Overeynder said. The DOW has looked at the project, and requested that the city obtain a study to determine minimum baseline water levels in Castle Creek. That study is nearly complete and established a minimum flow of 13.3 cubic feet per second to protect fish and other aquatic life. Once FERC gets the application, Overeynder said he hopes to have a decision within six months, although there is no guaranteed timeframe for a ruling.

The city has spent $632,653 on design of the “energy center,” which would house the turbine; $272,850 on planning; and $99,091 on studies related to the project, according to information provided by the city of Aspen…

The city has budgeted $665,000 for construction of the energy center, including controls inside the building and a pipe to return water to Castle Creek. The turbine itself is expected to cost about $1.4 million, including a pressure-reducing valve, Overeynder said.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: How will the city’s proposed hydroelectric plant impact the riparian and aquatic environment?

June 19, 2010

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From The Aspen Times (Aaron Hedge):

“This project is an ecological train wreck,” said Tom Starodoj, a resident of the area, during Wednesday’s public meeting.

The study established that Castle Creek needs at least 13.3 cubic feet per second at its lowest point of the year, which is typically between January and April when the cfs hovers around 20. Phil Overeynder, the city’s public works director, said in the meeting that figure is easily sustainable.

Overeynder said the city remains confident in the numbers the study relies on, which were generate in the early 1990s. Bill Miller of Miller Ecological Consultants, Inc., which conducted the study, said the life of the waterway will remain healthy if the project is completed.

Miller assured skeptics that the vibrancy of the stream depends not on a certain cfs during dry times, but on the complex cycle of peaks and furloughs it goes through every year. He said the city would not have the flexibility to drain the stream, though it is legally within its right to do so.

More coverage from Curtis Wackerle writing for the Aspen Daily News. From the article:

a group of homeowners who live along the creek are skeptical of the effect a proposed hydropower facility would have that would draw up to 25 cfs from the creek. What happens when the creek is running at 50 cfs? Will the plant still take its 25 cfs? And how is that not going to adversely affect the stream?

Those questions and others were posed in a meeting on the Castle Creek hydropower facility Wednesday night at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. Most of the 17 or so members of the public in attendance were Castle Creek homeowners who question whether the project is the right thing to do…

Miller noted, however, that in a naturally flowing mountain stream like Castle Creek, the peak flows seen during the spring runoff are the most critical to ecology. Spring flows on Castle Creek tend to peak in the 700 cfs to 800 cfs range. This year, the creek peaked above 900 cfs. This inundation of water helps reinvigorate the channel and the plant life on the sides, Miller said. “Protecting that peak is probably as important or more important than preserving minimum flows,” he said.

Mark Uppendahl with the Colorado Division of Wildlife defended the 13.3 number, calling it the “amount of water we feel preserves the natural environment to a reasonable degree.”

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: Aspen Castle Creek hydroelectric project in conflict with instream flow needs

June 15, 2010

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From the Aspen Daily News (Curtis Wackerle):

A city-commissioned report from Miller Ecological Consultants of Fort Collins found that that a minimum of 13.3 cubic feet per second of water needs to be in Castle Creek to ensure healthy fish and plant life, although the stream often doesn’t contain much more water than that…

The city plans to divert a maximum of 25 cfs from Castle Creek to run the turbine of the proposed facility, which would be located in a new building under the Castle Creek Bridge on Power Plant Road. After running the turbine, water would be fed back into Castle Creek. The plant could generate up to 5.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually. During spring runoff, Castle Creek can peak between 700 and 900 cfs, or even above like it did this year. But by August in an average year, the creek is running back below 100 cfs. Flows hang around 40 cfs for most of the fall. From about December until the runoff starts again in the spring, water levels in the creek are typically below 20 cfs.

If the Castle Creek hydro plant is built, water levels would be pushed to the minimum stream flow level for a few additional weeks at the beginning and end of the low water season before diversions were reduced or stopped altogether. “With the project in place, you’ll get a longer time period in the fall and spring when (low water) conditions occur,” city public works director Phil Overeynder said. “We’ll have conditions for months at a time when there simply isn’t enough water” and the plant will have to be shut down. The city is committed to maintaining a healthy instream flow in Castle Creek, Overeynder said. “We’re not about to back off of that,” he said…

The city has been working with the Colorado Division of Wildlife on the environmental impacts of the hydropower proposal. It is hoping to get a “conduit exemption” from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which would not require a formal environmental impact statement or environmental analysis. City officials insist that this will save time and money, and that there will still be ample environmental review for the conduit exemption and at the state level.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: Aspen city council approves $2.3 million for Castle Creek hydropower project

March 15, 2010

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From The Aspen Times (Carolyn Sackariason):

The council approved a contract with Denver-based Western Summit Constructors to build a pipeline that will deliver water from Castle Creek via the Thomas Reservoir to the plant, which will be located below the Castle Creek bridge.

The city plans to circumvent a full-blown environmental analysis and instead apply to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for what’s called a “conduit exemption” to build the hydroelectric plant once the pipeline is under construction. Officials say by delivering water from the reservoir to the plant, the city can take advantage of water for hydropower while providing needed flood protection to properties downhill of the Thomas Reservoir, such as the hospital.

The council also approved a $48,400 contract with Miller Ecological Associates to conduct an aquatic biology study to determine the effects of taking water from the creek. The study was requested by the Colorado Division of Wildlife to evaluate the effect of stream-flow changes between the point of diversion and the point of return in the creek…

Several people said they were concerned about a decreased flow in Castle and Maroon creeks because water will be drained out of both to generate power. Under an agreement with the state, the city of Aspen would never go below 12 cfs in Castle Creek and 14 cfs in Maroon Creek…

If approved, the water would travel down a 42-inch pipe, supplying the hydro plant with approximately 25 cubic feet per second (cfs) coming from Castle Creek and 60 cfs out of Maroon Creek. The city diverts water from both creeks for the primary purpose of supplying municipal water and maintains the in-stream flow of 12 and 14 cfs. The third priority would be for hydroelectricity, but if there isn’t enough water available in a dry year or during certain times of the year, it wouldn’t be diverted, officials have said. The project would utilize existing water rights, head gates and water storage of the original Castle Creek hydroelectric plant, which met all of Aspen’s electric power needs from 1892 through 1958, when the plant was decommissioned…

The electricity would be placed on the city’s grid and taken up to the water treatment campus to power those facilities, and to potentially produce hydrogen for hydrogen fuel cells and hydrogen vehicles. When completed, the 1.05 mega-watt facility is expected to increase electric production by 5.5 million kilowatt hours annually. That power production will prevent more than 5,000 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year, officials said. It would generate renewable energy for the city and increase its supplies by 8 percent over its current level of about 75 percent. City officials say that switching from primarily coal-fired energy purchases to hydroelectric power production would represent a 0.6 percent community-wide reduction in carbon emissions based on a 2004 greenhouse gas emission inventory.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Aspen: City and area residents debating the benefits and possible streamflow loss of proposed hydroelectric facility

November 20, 2009

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From the Associated Press via The Aspen Times via the Grand Junction Free Press:

City officials are taking public comments on the proposal and say a more comprehensive review is possible if there is enough concern or there are issues they haven’t considered. Aspen wants to build a 1,880-square-foot hydropower plant that would draw water from Castle and Maroon creeks to generate electricity. The 1.05 megawatt plant is expected to increase production of electricity by 5.5 million kilowatt hours annually. That would provide energy for several hundred households. City officials say getting that much electricity from a renewable source would eliminate an estimated 5,167 tons of carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power for a 0.6 percent communitywide decrease.

Some area residents, however, are concerned about the potential effects on wildlife and water rights if too much water is diverted from the creeks. Paul Noto, an Aspen-based water attorney, who represents several residents who live along Castle Creek, said if Aspen touts itself as an environmental leader, it ought to submit the project to a full environmental review.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Aspen: Recap of public meeting for planned hydroelectric installation on Castle Creek

November 15, 2009

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From The Aspen Times (Carolyn Sackariason):

Nearly two dozen people attended a public meeting held Friday concerning the Castle Creek Hydroelectric Project. City officials, paid consultants, hydrologists and aquatic biologists were on hand to explain the project and answer questions about the project. The purpose of the meeting was to determine whether the city should circumvent a full environmental review through a permit process with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). As it stands now, the city plans to apply for what’s known as a “conduit exemption,” which wouldn’t require a full-blown environmental review. But the city’s public works director Phil Overeyender said if public comment, which will be taken for the next 60 days, raises enough concern or potential effects that the city hasn’t considered, a full environmental review could be possible.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: Aspen’s Castle Creek hydroelectric generation station update

August 24, 2009

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Nearly three years ago Aspen residents approved bonding to fund a hydroelectric generation station on Castle Creek in town. Here’s an update on progress towards building the facility, from Carolyn Sackariason writing for the Glenwood Springs Independent. From the article:

John Hines, the city’s renewable energy utility manager, said the 1,880-square-foot facility will go through public review for final approval starting next month. If it’s approved by the Aspen City Council, construction could begin as early as the spring…

There has been minimal opposition to the facility, but some people are concerned about a decreased flow in the nearby stream because water will be drained out of it to generate power. Hines said the city will host a neighborhood meeting after Labor Day in which a hydrologist and an engineer will address water-flow concerns. He added that neighbors are generally in favor of the facility but are watching the design of it closely. “They are in favor of the hydro facility, but they want it done right; I don’t blame them,” Hines said.

A new water line is being built to replace the old one, as well as to accommodate the new plant, which will generate renewable energy for the city and increase its supplies by 8 percent over its current level of about 75 percent. The project would utilize existing water rights, head gates, and water storage of the original Castle Creek hydroelectric plant, which met all of Aspen’s electric power needs from 1892 through 1958, when the plant was decommissioned. When completed, the 1.05 mega-watt facility is expected to increase electric production by 5.5 million kilowatt hours annually.

City officials say that switching from primarily coal-fired energy purchases to hydroelectric power production would eliminate an estimated 5,167 tons of CO2 emissions — representing a 0.6 percent community-wide reduction in carbon emissions based on the 2004 greenhouse gas emission inventory.

The facility’s turbine and generator will be designed to convert the force of falling water into electric power. The water comes from the Thomas Reservoir, which is located at the top of Doolittle Drive and is the home of the water treatment facility. The water will travel down a 42-inch pipe, supplying the hydro plant with approximately 52 cubic feet per second. There are nearly 4.9 million gallons of water sitting above some residential areas and the hospital. The pipe would allow the city to quickly evacuate the water should the walls of the reservoir ever be breached. The electricity will be placed on the city’s grid and taken up to the water treatment campus to power those facilities, and to potentially produce hydrogen for hydrogen fuel cells and hydrogen vehicles.

More hydroelectric coverage here and here.

Energy policy — hydroelectric: Aspen’s new Castle Creek plant

April 13, 2009

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Here’s a letter to the editor — running in the Aspen Times — written by Phil Overeynder, Utilities and Environmental Initiatives Director, City of Aspen, explaining the benefits of the new hydroelectric plant approved in 2007 by Aspen voters, along with the City’s committment to instream flow in Castle Creek:

In the near future we plan to provide additional information about this important and environmentally responsible project. What Aspenites gained in approving this project on the 2007 ballot is the annual production of 5.5 million kilowatt-hours of environmentally responsible electricity. That power production will prevent more than 5,000 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere every year. This represents more than 25 percent of the remaining carbon emissions resulting from power generation for Aspen’s electric utility.

The production of clean, renewable energy at the Castle Creek Hydroelectric Project will depend on the use of water drawn from Castle Creek. There is simply no way around this basic fact. However, the city is doing its best to limit the impact on Castle Creek. The only change the hydroelectric project will make in the city’s water use regime is that a portion of the water diverted by the city will return to the creek at a point approximately three-fourths of a mile downstream of the present point of return, which is below Thomas Reservoir. The new point of return will be at the Castle Creek Bridge.

From the beginning of the Castle Creek Hydroelectric Project, the city of Aspen has been aware of the critical importance of maintaining a viable, healthy stream in Castle Creek. The Colorado Water Conservation Board’s (CWCB) decreed instream flow right for Castle Creek is 12 cubic feet per second (cfs), and is decreed for the purpose of protecting the natural environment.

This is a fairly junior water right. To help assure that Castle Creek actually receives this instream flow, which applies to all of Castle Creek, the city has already voluntarily committed to operate its own, more senior, water rights in a way that will support the 12 cfs instream flow. The city currently honors this commitment, and the proposed Castle Creek Hydroelectric Project will not alter this commitment. This means it is possible that, under certain conditions, the flow in Castle Creek upstream of the hydroplant will be 12 cfs. Historical low stream flow conditions in Castle Creek (generally reaching the lowest values in late winter) have averaged in the range of 20 cfs. When the hydroplant is operating in times of low flow in Castle Creek, flows in the reach of the creek between the hydroplant intake and the plant may be reduced to 12 cfs instead (the value established by the CWCB as necessary to protect the natural environment).


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