A New Start on Renewable Energy, Streams and Responsible Hydro?
The No vote on the proposed Castle Creek hydro plant gives Aspen the chance to re-engage the discussion on hydropower and renewable energy. It also gives us a chance to heal some unfortunate wounds, reuniting both Aspen and the environmental community towards a common goal.
We all support the City of Aspen’s goals in becoming a 100% renewable energy community and reducing both greenhouse gas emissions and the impacts from global warming. That has never been an issue.
Hydropower done right can be a realistic, cost effective and environmentally responsible 21st century option. Organizations like American Rivers, the Hydropower Reform Coalition, Trout Unlimited and the Western Rivers Institute have a lot of expertise in stream ecosystem health and responsible hydropower development.
The City plans to have discussions on where to go from here in January. I hope those discussions will include a wide range of community and environmental interests. Developing responsible renewable energy and reducing our carbon footprint should be an inclusive community effort, not a “my way or the highway” dog fight. As Ward Hauenstein said at the City Council meeting, we need to take a “fresh look” and come together to resolve these issues.
We have an opportunity now to look at the whole picture of renewable energy options; options that help mitigate the impacts of climate change and truly protect those ecosystems most vulnerable to climate change. We need to look at the whole system of our energy needs and uses as well as where that energy comes from.
Money wasn’t the reason the hydro plant lost at the polls. Genuine concern about Castle and Maroon Creeks, and concern about the path Aspen was taking were. Aspen has a chance now to redirect its efforts and work creatively with everyone.
I trust that in January Aspen will heed the advice of its citizens and take that chance.
Hydro losses at the polls!
Aspen voters narrowly defeated the proposed Castle Creek hydro plant Tuesday. This was an advisory vote, so it remains to be seen if the City Council will take the community’s “advice”. Hopefully they will and either scrap or drastically change this flawed project. Some may say that the loss was due to “outside money”. That simply isn’t true and insults the intelligence of the Aspen electorate. The hydro plant just doesn’t stand up to serious analysis and scrutiny. It will harm the streams, cost far more than it will return and represents a step backwards in the effort to solve our energy problems while reducing the causes of climate change. It is a bad project, pure and simple, and the people of Aspen realize that.
NEW VIDEO on the nature of Mountain Gravel Bed Streams and the impacts from reduced flows. This is the first of several that will be posted on stream health, how rivers work, climate change, water law and other topics. Keep posted!
Here is the next one, on the Myth of Minimum Stream Flows.
Most of us strongly support the City’s efforts at reducing their carbon footprint, just not the way they are doing it. We don’t have to wreck a local environment in order to save the larger one anymore. There are many, many alternatives that will achieve the same end, with less controversy, less damage and a lot less cost.
The City has promised not to harm either stream, but the assumptions, data and statements they make belie that assurance.
Saying the streams will be “Dewatered” is not “pejorative”, it’s simply the truth. The “real fact” that 13% of the annual flow of Castle Creek will go to hydropower is deliberately misleading. It’s a half-truth. It doesn’t include all the other diversions for municipal, irrigation and snowmaking needs.
Total diversions increase dramatically when hydro is added. By the City’s own figures, just submitted to FERC, average total annual diversions on Castle Creek are 29%, not just 13%, when all of the other diversions are added to the proposed hydro diversion.
But using an “annual” average is a distortion of the streams real flow pattern. If flows were uniform throughout the year it would be relevant, but they aren’t. For a couple months there is plenty of water, but for more than half the year diversions exceed 50% of the total flow of Castle Creek.
If that isn’t “dewatering”, what is? Recent studies (Richter, B.D., et al.) show that diverting more than 20% of the native flow will likely cause serious long-term degradation. New understandings about how streams ecosystems work show the notion of a Minimum Stream Flow just doesn’t work. When 10% to 20% of a streams native flow is altered risk of degradation increases. Above 20% and the risk of significant degradation becomes significant. Both Castle and Maroon Creeks will see flow alterations well above 20%, and as much as 64%, for nearly 11 months of the year between the points of diversion and the points where water comes back in.
Maroon Creek fares a bit better in diversion volume, but here the dewatering is permanent. It is disingenuous to say water from Maroon Creek is “returned to the Roaring Fork River via Castle Creek”. By this twisted logic Denver could make the same claim, implying no harm to the Colorado River because diverted water is “returned” to the ocean via the Mississippi. The scale may be different, but it’s as ridiculous as the City’s claim about returning water “via Castle Creek”.
None of the water taken from Maroon Creek returns to Maroon Creek. It and the downstream wetlands will be permanently dewatered.
New Gauging. The Aspen group Saving Our Streams is also deeply engaged with protecting the health and community around Castle and Maroon Creeks. They are working with the US Geological Survey (USGS) to install a new stream gauge on Castle Creek. This new gauge will be below the principal diversions on Castle Creek and just above the proposed Power Plant. It should be up, running and providing real time stream flow data by the end of April! Check it out, and check out SOS’s website!