(July 19, 2017 – Aspen, CO) – This morning the City of Aspen announced that it is under contract to purchase land downstream of Aspen for a potential off-channel water storage facility. This facility would be part of a suite of alternative water management strategies that the City plans to deploy as an alternative to decades-old plans to build large dams on Maroon and Castle creeks above Aspen. If built, the dams would flood portions of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area, forever changing two of the most iconic, visited and photographed valleys in Colorado. Instead, the City says that it will pursue smart water storage and options including enhanced conservation and reuse, as well as partnerships with willing agricultural interests.

“Implementing these alternatives to the Maroon and Castle Creek dams would reaffirm Aspen’s role as a global environmental leader,” said Rob Harris, Senior Staff Attorney at Western Resource Advocates (WRA) and lead advocate for WRA as well as Wilderness Workshop (WW).

“By pursuing alternatives to outdated plans for expensive dams that would harm wildlife and scenic, economic, and recreational values, Aspen recognizes it can address future challenges more quickly, affordably, and sustainably through innovative water management strategies. We commend Aspen for its foresight in seeking to secure its water future while taking steps to protect the special places that define Colorado’s high country.”

With today’s announcement, Aspen builds on its existing water conservation and water reuse efforts by adding temporary agricultural water sharing to its already diverse water management toolbox. Temporary agricultural water sharing involves a willing buyer and a willing agricultural seller agreeing to a non-permanent transfer of water rights to help the buyer enhance its water portfolio in times of short supply. Western Resource Advocates has long advocated for the use and expansion of water conservation, water reuse, and agricultural-urban water sharing strategies to solve the West’s toughest water supply problems and to help keep local streams and rivers healthy for fish, wildlife, and recreation. Earlier this year, Western Resource Advocates summarized these strategies in a memorandum addressed to the City. Readers can learn more about these strategies in our 2014 report, The Hardest Working River in the West: Common-Sense Solutions for a Reliable Water Future for the Colorado River Basin.

“Healthy rivers and wildlife, and the recreation opportunities they provide, are at the foundation of Aspen’s economy and community values,” said Sloan Shoemaker, Executive Director at Wilderness Workshop. “We thank Mayor Skadron, Aspen City Council, and City staff for their collaboration in setting a better course for the future of the Roaring Fork Valley. While the Castle and Maroon Creek Reservoirs may have seemed like a good idea in 1967, we congratulate the City for this win-win alternative that protects our iconic landscape and provides for the City’s water needs.”

The City’s announcement does not, in itself, end the pending water court cases considering the City’s conditional water rights. The City’s press release makes clear that its willingness to entirely drop the Maroon and Castle creeks dams from its water rights portfolio has preconditions. In addition, WRA and WW think that the City may be proposing a suitable alternative site but want to be sure that any alternative water storage location can be done with minimal adverse impacts to the environment. However, WRA and WW are optimistic that the cases can be resolved to the benefit of all of the parties. Discussions amongst the parties to the water court cases are currently scheduled to continue in August.


* Rob Harris, Senior Staff Attorney, Western Resource Advocates, (720) 763-3713 (office), (720) 883-1649 (cell), rob.harris@westernresources.org
* Sloan Shoemaker, Executive Director, Wilderness Workshop, (970) 963-3977 (office), (970) 618-6022 (cell), sloan@wildernessworkshop.org
* Joan Clayburgh, Communications Director, Western Resource Advocates, (530) 318-5370, joan.clayburgh@westernresources.org

Our partner, Wilderness Workshop (WW) is dedicated to preservation and conservation of the wilderness and natural resources of the White River National Forest and adjacent public lands. WW engages in research, education, legal advocacy and grassroots organizing to protect the ecological integrity of local landscapes and public lands. WW is the oldest environmental nonprofit in the Roaring Fork Valley, dating back to 1967 with a membership base of over 800. Learn more at http://www.wildernessworkshop.org/.