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The environment desk at Aspen Public Radio covers issues in the Roaring Fork Valley and throughout the state of Colorado including water use and quality, impact of recreation, population growth and oil and gas development. APR’s Environment Reporter is Elizabeth Stewart-Severy.

Mining for water: City explores alternatives to dams

Courtesy of Wilderness Workshop

Earlier this fall, Aspen City Council heard loud and clear that residents don’t want to see dams on Castle or Maroon creeks, and then filed to keep the rights to build reservoirs there anyway. Now the city is making good on its promise to explore other options.


Some possible alternatives to dams on Aspen’s most iconic creeks include the usual suspects: legislative solutions to limits on water rights, continuing conservation efforts, and partnerships to prevent more trans-basin diversions. But city staff is also stepping into some uncharted territory.

Dave Hornbacher, director of utilities for the city, said it may be possible for the city to use old mine tunnels for underground water storage.

“You’ll certainly have to look at water quality, you’d have to look at it from a water rights perspective,” Hornbacher said. “So, there’s certainly a lot of items that you’d have to go through to prove it out, but it’s sort of exciting that this is one of the things that we’d look at in detail.”

The search for other means of storage comes at a time when the city is likely to face opposition in water court as it works to hold onto its conditional water rights in Maroon and Castle creeks. After hours of public comment during recent hearings, council members indicated a wish for collaborative solutions to water storage.

Hornbacher and other city workers will hold a meeting at the end of January to gather input from the public on these and other possible fixes.


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