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

February 25, 2015


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

January 28, 2015


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

January 8, 2015
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.


Aspen drinking water tour recap

September 23, 2014

Aspen

Aspen


From the Aspen Daily News (Collin Szewczyk):

Through a program by the Roaring Fork Conservancy, a group of over 20 people seeking to quench their intellectual curiosities concerning the city’s water, how it’s treated and where it comes from, toured the city of Aspen’s drinking water treatment facility this week led by water treatment supervisor Charlie Bailey and Laura Taylor, an operator at the facility.

Christina Medved, watershed education director of the Roaring Fork Conservancy, pointed out the parameters of the Roaring Fork watershed, noting that local rivers and streams are fed from an area the size of a small Eastern state.

“Our watershed is about the size of Rhode Island,” she said. “And over 30 percent of it is in designated wilderness areas.”

She praised the relationship that the conservancy has with local government entities such as the city water department, that allows visitors to check out local facilities, which are normally closed to the general public.

“What’s really exciting is we get access to places like this,” Medved said. “We have really wonderful partners that will say, ‘yeah, we’ll open up the gate for you,’ when you normally can’t get in here and have an audience with Charlie and Laura because they’re busy bringing water to Aspen.”

Aspenitus
The plant was completed in December 1966 after Aspen endured a major waterborne epidemic of giardia in the mid-1960s. Giardia is a microscopic parasite that is found in soil, food or water that is contaminated with feces. Another parasite, cryptosporidium, has yet to appear in the Aspen area.

“That was 1964-65; it was the first documented public health problem in the United States,” said Bailey. “There was a documented waterborne problem and that was giardia. There were two redwood tanks up on the hill here that were used for the hydro plant that was down the street, but the Aspen Water Company provided water to the pipes and there was no treatment at all … It was a big hit, they called it ‘Aspenitus.’”

After the outbreak, the city got money together, bought bonds and broke ground on the treatment plant in 1965. There’s been no cases of giardia in the city’s water since the building of the facility, Bailey said.

“There’s lots of giardia in the water and none of it comes out of the pipeline here,” he said. “We’re required to do testing once a year on the performance of our filters and our clear well (a reservoir used for storing filtered water, which flows through a series of baffles, allowing contact time with chlorine for disinfection).”

Beavers were the main culprit for the giardia epidemic, and the area up Maroon and Castle creeks was teeming with them at the time.

“There was a huge beaver population up there,” Bailey said, but added that it’s good to have them in the area. “They’re animals that let us know that the environment is healthy.”

The water plant also checks the water for mining tailings and other non-natural pollutants.

“We’ve requested extra testing of our water sources,” Bailey said. “We’ve done heavy metal testing and we actually do [pharmaceutical] testing, too.”

He added that no traces of either have been found in Aspen’s drinking water.

“Ever since I’ve been here, and even before, there’s been no problem with city water,” he said. “No public outbreaks, no boil orders, because I will not let it happen on my watch.

“We make the water, and the best thing about making the water here is that it’s clean,” Bailey continued. “The water comes from wilderness areas and there is nobody up above us that has dumped back [into the creeks] after industrial processes or anything like that. We get water coming through the geology, through the snowmelt, we are stewards of the water so we really keep track of everything above us and below us.”[…]

The water here is pumped in from Maroon and Castle creeks and begins its journey through the treatment facility and into Aspen taps. He noted that the city has water rights of 142 cubic feet per second (cfs) in Maroon Creek and about 90 cfs in Castle Creek, even though the streams only hit that level during spring runoff…

The purification process
The reservoir, which holds about 4 million gallons in the summer, is the first stop in the purifying process as sediment in the water begins to settle here.

“This is one of our processes,” Bailey said. “We basically bring the water in here and we slow it down. This helps so much during [peak] runoff … the dirt is tumbling, it’s coming in and all the sudden it settles out here and we’re able to draw off the surface and it’s much, much cleaner.”

He added that the water is usually at about one turbidity unit (TU) — the measurement of cloudiness caused by particulates — when it enters the reservoir. When it leaves it’s at .5 TU; during peak runoff it can be as dirty as 60 TU.

“We get reduction in here,” Bailey said. “That’s just a natural tumbling process, we slow it down and that stuff just falls out.”

The nutrient-rich sediment has to be periodically dug out, but it gets spread around the site making the soil perfect for plant growth.

To the north side of the reservoir lies the remnants of the old Maroon Creek flume that was used to divert water to the “tent city” in the late 1800s. As the group was looking down on the wooden channel one observer noticed a bear hanging out in a nearby tree, adding to the natural feel of the site.

The water next goes into large flocculation tanks — which look like UFOs — that, with the aid of chemicals, coagulate the particulates, churn them about and make the sediment again settle to the bottom.

After settling twice, the water makes its journey to a filtration section of the facility. Here, it’s pushed by gravity through a filter that consists of 18 inches of anthracite (coal) and a foot of sand. It next heads to the clear well for 14 to 15 hours to ensure all giardia is killed.

The state’s regulation allows for drinking water to reach one TU and still be acceptable to drink, but on this day Aspen’s drinking water was a pristine 0.037 TU.

More water treatment coverage here.


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

June 30, 2014

Smuggler Mine back in the day via GregRulon.com

Smuggler Mine back in the day via GregRulon.com


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

aspen
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.


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