City Working on Alternatives to Storing Water in Local Reservoirs

Press Release


City Working on Alternatives to Storing Water in Local Reservoirs


Contact:  Steve Barwick, City Manager, 920-5205 or and Dave Hornbacher, Director of Utilities and Environmental Initiatives, 429-1983 or


Aspen, Colorado – December 19, 2016 –  Since 1965 the City of Aspen has held conditional water rights for reservoirs on Maroon and Castle Creeks.  Today, the City’s primary source of stored water is snowpack, which varies significantly year to year.  Reservoirs, however, can store water from season to season and year to year should the City’s water supply system be insufficient to meet the community’s daily use needs.  City Council takes seriously its obligation and approach to protecting public health and safety and providing essential services to its residents and customers.  The Aspen community will face significant challenges as we see increased droughts and lower snowfall levels due to climate change.  Without water storage, Aspen’s water availability for households and businesses will be threated and is a risk the City considers when making long-range plans.  
The science confirms that Aspen’s climate is already changing and will continue to do so,” said Ashley Perl, Climate Action Manager.  “Aspen now sees 23 days less of winter than in the years before 1980.  This trend is projected to continue and Aspen’s current water storage – our snowpack – will diminish.”


Because of the seriousness of ensuring municipal water availability into the future, City Council has directed staff to investigate a variety of means for meeting customer demands into the future.  


“City Council has asked if we are confident that we can meet water need scenarios in the future without these reservoirs.  The answer is no.  We need to develop reliable alternatives to reservoirs or we will end up with reservoirs,” said City Manager Steve Barwick.


The City Water Department has been working to compile a preliminary list of potential options to provide the water supply and storage systems that will protect the City into the future. Some of the concepts to be included for investigation are:
•    Using mine tunnels for underground water storage
•    Promote legislative solutions to water rights use limitations (for example allow rights holders to not use it and not lose it)
•    Evaluate additional water resources, including wells, mines, other water rights, ditches and reusing water for potable use
•    Engage ditch companies and other agriculture owners/operators in exploring the use of agricultural water to supplement municipal supply
•    Form collaborative partnerships with trans-basin water diverters to retain additional West Slope source water
•    Naturally enrich the watershed to retain water resources longer including enhancements to landscaping, irrigation efficiencies and in-stream flows


While conservation has long been advocated in Aspen, these new ideas take water supply to a new level of investigation.  For example, Aspen’s underground mine infrastructure is expansive and researching opportunities for mine tunnels to hold water may be a significant method for water storage into the future.  Equally important is further refining studies on climate change impacts to local water supply and demand.  With this in mind, the City is evaluating a myriad of portfolio options to meet the community’s daily use demands. Studying these options and their effectiveness will be part of a project poised to begin in 2017.


With Council’s direction to conduct this study, City staff is now drafting a work program to present to Council to seek direction on where to focus staff and financial resources.  The first meeting on the subject is anticipated to take place January 31, 2017.  


A significant element to the work program will be to engage the public to incorporate members’ ideas into the list of possible solutions for long-term water storage.  The community’s voice is critical to the success of this project and to that end, included in the work plan will be public meetings, information outreach efforts, online resources and feedback tools, work groups and stakeholder sessions.


Throughout this process the first priority of the City is to provide water to the community now and into the future.  


Posted on Monday, December 19, 2016