City water supply could be tested by climate change — The Aspen Daily News

Smuggler Mine back in the day via GregRulon.com
Smuggler Mine back in the day via GregRulon.com

From The Aspen Daily News (Curtis Wackerle):

If climate change renders the Western Slope warmer and drier, and if historic growth rates keep up, then Aspen’s water utility could have trouble meeting consumer demand without depleting minimum in-stream flows in Castle and Maroon creeks over the next 50 years.

Aspen City Council on Monday heard a presentation from consultants hired to evaluate the adequacy of the municipal water supply. Wilson Water Group put together a report forecasting demand and available supply over a 50-year outlook, and found that in the worst-case climate change scenario, the city could miss in-stream flow targets on Castle and Maroon creeks by between 4 and 9 cubic feet per second during the “irrigation months” of June through September.

The city has committed to a 13 cfs minimum flow in Castle Creek, and 14 cfs in Maroon. Both creeks are tapped to feed municipal needs through diversion structures that send water to Thomas Reservoir, a holding bay for the city’s treatment plant.

Even if the worst-case scenario projections come to pass in terms of climate change and population growth — demands on the city’s water system historically have risen by about 1.2 percent a year, according to special projects utilities engineer Phil Overeynder — the city has other ways to shore up its water supply.

One project that has been on the drawing board for years would pump treated wastewater uphill from the sanitation plant to irrigate the city’s golf course.

The city also controls three wells in town drawing from the local aquifer. If irrigation for city parks increasingly relied on those wells, then more water could be left in Castle and Maroon creeks.

Combined with more water conservation, or restrictions in drought years, depletion of in-stream flows could be avoided, consultants report.

City council agreed to adopt the 2016 Water Supply Availability Study, and continue monitoring hydrologic conditions.

Council also heard a presentation on Monday from another consultant that analyzed threats to the water supply and water quality. Given that Aspen’s water originates in high mountain valleys, wildfire poses perhaps the most imminent and hazardous threat. A bad fire in the Castle or Maroon watersheds could be detrimental to water quality in those streams, and subsequent mudslides could also cause problems.

There is also the abandoned Pitkin Iron Mine above Ashcroft that drains into Copper Creek, a Castle Creek tributary.

The Colorado Rural Water Association conducted a study for the city assessing the best ways to mitigate these threats.

Creating a buffer zone against wildfire near the diversion structures on Castle and Maroon creeks, while continuing to develop plans to limit wildfire debris flow into Thomas Reservoir, were among the study’s top recommendations.

More work to control erosion at the Pitkin Iron Mine site was also recommended. However, the consultant noted that the Pitkin Iron Mine did not make the list of the state’s 200 most pressing mine cleanup needs.

Aspen to develop river management plan for upper Fork — The Aspen Times

Roaring Fork River in early July 2012 via Aspen Journalism
Roaring Fork River in early July 2012 via Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via The Aspen Times:

The city of Aspen is seeking consultants to help it prepare a river management plan for the upper Roaring Fork River, which has been plagued in drought years by low flows as it winds through central Aspen.

“The city of Aspen plans to study the upper Roaring Fork River, from its headwaters to a point just below the confluence with Maroon Creek,” the city’s request for proposals, or RFP, says.

April Long, the city’s stormwater manager, said the development of a river management plan was one of the Aspen city council’s top ten goals in 2015. Long said she expects regional engineering firms specializing in water to put together teams of consultants and submit proposals to the city, which are due by Jan. 15.

“Since 2008, the city has focused on improving the quality of water discharged through its outfalls. The city now feels it is important to focus its attention on one of the other probable causes for impairment – inadequate flows during periods of drought,” the RFP says.

The city’s RFP also says it expects proposed consulting teams “to include members with experience and expertise in water resources engineering, river science, hydrology, water quality, stream geomorphology, Colorado water rights and water law, and group facilitation.”

Long said the city’s river management plan will be similar to the ‘”stream management plans” that are called for in the recently released Colorado Water Plan, and that ongoing work being done by the Colorado Water Trust for Pitkin County on ways to add more water to the river will be looked at when formulating the city’s river plan.

“Our ultimate goal for the project is to develop a plan that outlines operational, management, and physical options that improve the health of the river while respecting each stakeholder’s rights and interests,” the city’s RFP says.

The Roaring Fork River flows into the city’s boundaries at Stillwater Drive east of downtown Aspen.

The stretch of the river between there and the confluence with Castle Creek has been known to drop below 32 cubic feet per second, which the Colorado Water Conservation Board considers the minimum amount of water necessary to protect the river’s environment “to a reasonable degree.”

“In the early 2000s several studies investigated the health of the Roaring Fork River and reported a severely degraded or impaired stretch of river within the city,” the RFP says. “The instream flow determined for this stretch in the 1970s is 32 cubic feet per second. During the droughts of 2002 and 2012, the river in this stretch dropped to only 5 cfs – only 15 percent of the instream flow.”

One big factor in the amount of water in the Roaring Fork River through Aspen is the Salvation Ditch, an irrigation ditch that diverts water from the river at Stillwater Drive.

The ditch has a senior 1902 water right that allows up to 58 cfs of water to be diverted and sent across lower Red Mountain to Woody Creek.

During the drought of 2012 there were days when there was more water flowing down the Salvation Ditch than was flowing down the Roaring Fork as it winds through town.

For example, according to a study done by S.K. Mason Environmental LLC, on July 27, 2012 there was 17.4 cfs flowing in the Salvation Ditch and 7.6 cfs of water flowing down the Fork below the ditch.

However, Tom Moore, the president of the Salvation Ditch Company, said the shareholders who own land along the ditch company also need the water in dry years, they have made significant investments in the water system, and they are concerned about weakening their water right by not diverting the water.

He also pointed out that the Salvation Ditch water right is senior to the 1930s era water rights held by the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which diverts water under Independence Pass. As such, the Salvation Ditch plays a role in keeping water in the Roaring Fork River, he said.

The city’s Long said talking with the Salvation Ditch Co. will be an important part of the river management plan, which is why the city is seeking proposals that include consultants with an expertise in working with various stakeholders.

The city’s RFP says “we hope that by determining valuable attributes of the river, we can work together as a community to lessen impairment and improve water quality, river health, ecological health, recreational opportunities, and riparian habitat in ways that closer meet the community’s goals.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is covering rivers and water in collaboration with the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and The Aspen Times. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

A view of the Salvation Ditch diversion dam and head gate, just of off Stillwater Drive, east of Aspen. Smith / Aspen Journalism
A view of the Salvation Ditch diversion dam and head gate, just of off Stillwater Drive, east of Aspen. Smith / Aspen Journalism

Aspen utilities official favors new dams on local streams — Aspen Journalism

Gravity dam
Gravity dam

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

A top utility official with the city of Aspen voiced his support last week for building “small reservoirs” on a number of streams in the Roaring Fork River watershed, including on Hunter, Castle, Maroon, and Avalanche creeks.

“Small reservoirs would improve stream flow on tributaries,” said Mike McDill, deputy director of utilities for the city of Aspen, referring to the ability to store water in the spring and release it later during low-flow periods.

“A small reservoir on Castle Creek would improve the stream health on Castle Creek and also help our drinking water reserves,” McDill said. “I think there may also be benefits to Hunter Creek, Maroon Creek and maybe even Avalanche Creek. All of our tributaries could use that kind of small reservoir and stream-flow calming.”

Today, the city of Aspen owns two diversion dams, one on lower Castle Creek next to Dick Butera’s estate, and one on lower Maroon Creek near the T-Lazy Ranch. Both of the dams are river wide and completely block fish passage, but they do not form reservoirs of water behind them.

McDill also said the city fully intends to keep its options open for two large dams on both upper Castle and Maroon creeks, which he referred to as “serious water storage reservoirs.”

McDill’s remarks were made during a public meeting of the Roaring Fork Watershed Collaborative, held at the Third Street Center in Carbondale.

At the watershed meeting, consulting engineers from SGM were facilitating a group-planning exercise in an effort to determine the top three water projects in the Roaring Fork River basin for inclusion in the forthcoming statewide Colorado Water Plan.

The effort did not result in a definitive shortlist of water projects, and no one else at the meeting spoke in favor of Aspen building new dams.

The Colorado River Basin Roundtable is slated to finalize a water project list for the entire Colorado River basin March 23.

“Serious water reservoirs”

McDill represents the city of Aspen on the Colorado Roundtable, and over the past year has consistently said the city needs to develop or acquire water storage.

“The city of Aspen, most of the cities in the region, none of them have any storage,” McDill said. “Their storage is snowpack, as is ours. I can tell you that that works great in the spring, works great through the summer. But believe it or not, our times of greatest concern are January, February, March, because Castle Creek, where we take most of water, is so low that we have to send a crew out almost every morning to chip the ice off of our intake bars, because the development of an inch or so of ice is enough to block our intake.”

McDill said the city, in addition to exploring new storage options, also is developing new water-supply projects, such as a reclaimed-water system and a deep-water well originally drilled as part of a geothermal energy project.

“The reason that we are doing that and the reclaimed water system,” McDill said, “is they are all really part of this idea of continuing due diligence to try to investigate every other possible way to provide the security for our drinking water system before we go to the point of building serious water storage reservoirs.

“We have reservoir storage rights on Maroon Creek and Castle Creek,” McDill added. “We know that’s going to be a really hard sell whenever we would start to do that, so before we even try, we’re going to look at every other alternative.”

The city holds conditional water rights for dams and reservoirs on both upper Castle and Maroon creeks.

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, about a mile-and-half from 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.

The city’s conditional water rights for the Castle and Maroon creek reservoirs are officially on the state’s books through 2016, when the city will need to convince the state water court it is diligently making progress toward building the dams.

(Please see related stories: “Aspen’s Ruedi water buy may bolster prospect for new dams on Castle and Maroon creeks” and “City maintains rights for dams on Castle and Maroon creeks“)

Small and large reservoirs

When McDill was asked at Thursday’s meeting what his definition of a “small dam” is, he pointed to the city’s Leonard Thomas Reservoir at the city’s water treatment plant, which he said holds 14 acre feet of water. The dam at the reservoir is 19 feet tall.

“But it’s a good question,” McDill then said. “What’s a large reservoir?”

He went on to say that the conditional water rights for the Maroon and Castle creek reservoirs were “in the neighborhood of 10,000 acre-feet,” and that the other “smaller” reservoirs under discussion were in the “4,000 to 5,000 to 6,000” acre-foot range.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times on coverage of rivers and waters. The Times published this story on Friday, March 13, 2015.

More Roaring Fork River watershed coverage here.

The City of Aspen filed a microhydro app yesterday with FERC on Maroon Creek

On Monday the City of Aspen officially ended its pursuit of a hydroelectric generation plant on Castle Creek — Aspen Journalism

The City of Aspen councilors decide to let FERC hydropower application expire in March


From The Aspen Times (Karl Herchenroeder):

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted Aspen its first three-year preliminary permit for a 1,175-kilowatt hydropower plant on lower Castle Creek in November 2008 and a second three-year permit in March 2012.

City Attorney Jim True recommended allowing the permit to expire on March 1, which would officially put the controversial Castle Creek Energy Center on ice, for now. City officials did, however, agree to continue exploring micro-hydro projects on Castle and Maroon creeks, which True said would involve protection of city water rights.

“We will update you on those issues,” True told the council, adding that there will be more detailed analysis later. “We do believe there are additional protections.”

Will Dolan, the city’s utilities project coordinator, said that if the city were able to install low-head hydro on Maroon Creek, it would allow it to run more water through the existing Maroon Creek hydroplant and “optimize production.” Councilwoman Ann Mullins asked if it will affect streamflows.

“It wouldn’t affect the flow regimes necessarily,” Dolan said. “It would allow us to more fully utilize our water rights, but it wouldn’t create any additional diversion from the stream.”

“These are issues we want to bring back in greater detail,” True said, adding that consultation with federal and city water attorneys is needed.

Councilman Adam Frisch said he believes there is broad community support to explore micro-hydro and called the plan that True laid out “a great step forward.” None of the council members offered objections to True’s recommendation.

“I agree to let it expire, continue the investigation of micro-hydro and have a universal statement on protecting water rights,” Councilman Dwayne Romero said.

In March, the city filed a progress report saying it was still working on the Castle Creek project, despite a November 2012 advisory vote where 51 percent of city voters said the city should stop doing so.

However, in June, the city settled a lawsuit over its water rights for the proposed hydroplant. Both the settlement and a subsequent city council resolution said the city “will not be pursuing or seeking to complete the Castle Creek Energy Center hydroelectric project at this time.”

More hydroelectric/hydropower coverage here and here.

Aspen faces deadlines on federal hydro permit — Aspen Journalism

Aspen
Aspen

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via The Aspen Times:

The Aspen City Council is expected Jan. 12 to face decisions about its federal permit for a hydropower plant on Castle Creek, as the permit expires Feb. 28 and there are deadlines Jan. 29 and March 1 if the city wants to keep the permit alive.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted Aspen its first three-year preliminary permit for a 1,175-kilowatt hydropower plant on lower Castle Creek in November 2008, and its second three-year permit in March 2012.

In the past nine months, the city’s communication with the commission has signaled varying degrees of commitment for the project.

In March, the city filed a progress report saying it was still working on the project, despite a November 2012 advisory vote where 51 percent of city voters said the city should stop doing so.

“The Aspen City Council has not abandoned the project … ” the city told the agency in March. “The project remains a viable project at this juncture, one which the city continues to study and to defend the water rights upon which its plans are based.”

In June, however, the city settled a lawsuit over its water rights for the proposed hydropower plant. Both the settlement and a subsequent City Council resolution said the city “will not be pursuing or seeking to complete the Castle Creek Energy Center hydroelectric project at this time.”

Instead, the city declared it was going to “pursue other renewable energy projects, including microhydroelectic installations at existing city-owned or controlled facilities.”

Those facilities are two diversion dams located several miles up Castle and Maroon creeks, which are currently used to divert water to the city’s water treatment plant.

The city in June sent FERC a copy of the resolution and the settlement agreement, and feels it gave adequate notice to the commission that its position on the project had evolved to embrace microhydro, Aspen City Attorney Jim True said.

But in September, the city sent FERC a progress report that seemed to suggest the city was leaving the door open for the plant on lower Castle Creek.

“In the event the City Council decides to proceed with the Castle Creek Energy Center project as a chosen alternative, the city will move forward as appropriate in accordance with applicable statues and regulations,” the city stated.

On Dec. 23, True said that sentence should not be taken to mean the city is still pursuing the original project.

Micro-hydroelectric plant
Micro-hydroelectric plant

“The city intends to pursue microhydro and we’ve made that clear to FERC,” True said. “We’re not looking at the Castle Creek Energy Center any more, at all.”

But if the city is not pursuing the lower Castle Creek project and instead plans to study microhydro projects, should it ask FERC to extend or renew its existing preliminary permit?

That’s one question the City Council is facing Jan. 12.

The city does have the right to apply for a third “successive” preliminary permit, but Shana Murray, who manages hydro projects at FERC, said it would be difficult.

“We will take a very hard look at what they have done to develop a license application over the last six years.”

Karl Kumli, an attorney working for the city on its federal permit, was more upbeat about the chances of extending the city’s current permit, even though the city’s focus has shifted.

“A preliminary permit, by its very nature, has some flexibility associated with it because you are studying options,” Kumli said.

Murray said if Aspen did want to file for a third permit, it would be expected to do so on March 1, the day after its current permit expires Feb. 28.

That is because one purpose of a preliminary permit is to secure the location of a proposed hydropower plant, so most applicants don’t leave a gap of even one day.

The city also has the option, with the passage of the federal Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013, to apply for a two-year extension to its current permit.

Murray said so far two-year extensions on second permits are getting about the same level of scrutiny at FERC as applications for a third permit.

However, if the city wants to go that route, it would need to notify FERC officials 30 days before the existing permit expires Feb. 28, which in this case is Jan. 29.

Murray wouldn’t speculate on how the agency would respond if the city applies to extend or renew its permit.

The city also has the option of simply letting its current permit expire and then applying for a new permit, or permits, for its proposed microhydro projects.

And in June, the city signaled to FERC it might go that route, although it did not discuss letting its current permit expire.

“In the near future, the city anticipates filing a separate preliminary permit or permits for such microhydro sites, which will be separate and different projects from the Castle Creek Energy Center,” the city said in its update.

Aspen Journalism and The Aspen Times are collaborating on coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

More hydroelectric/hydropower coverage here.