It’s an old political tactic to accuse your opponents of lies and distortions or trying to hide something when that is exactly what you are doing yourself. A recent column and letter to the editor in the Aspen Daily News stoop to that level.
These two pieces are rife with the same distortions and rumor mongering they so readily accuse anyone who dares question the wisdom of the Castle Creek Energy Center and hydroelectric project of practicing. (“Let the people speak on hydro,” Aspen Daily News, March 10 and “Power through hydro,” Aspen Daily News, March 29.)
Both articles claim that environmental concerns have been fully and adequately evaluated and that no harm will come to either Castle or Maroon creeks. Not true, not by a long shot. The city has promised not to harm either stream, but the assumptions and statements it makes belie that assurance.
Saying the streams will be “dewatered” is not “pejorative,” it’s simply the truth. The “real fact” that 13 percent 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 percent, not just 13 percent, 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 percent 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 percent of a stream’s native flow will likely cause serious long-term degradation.
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.
The city and others also claim, “studies … show the stream [Maroon Creek] has not been harmed” by years of hydropower diversions. That’s because the current diversions stay in Maroon Creek. Again, that won’t be the case with the Castle Creek plant. To say there has been no past harm to justify future permanent diversions is an absurd non sequitur. It’s another meaningless deception.
The same “logic” was used in the discredited conduit exemption application. It claimed the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) was a “municipality” and by a leap of logic environmental-minimum instream flows were therefore a consumptive municipal water use. Even the CWCB couldn’t tolerate that deliberate fantasy, and FERC probably wouldn’t have either.
And they claim that the hydro opponents are using the “big lie technique?”
I would like to dispel another mean-spirited rumor. Neither I, nor anyone I know, is on the payroll of any particular wealthy individual. There is no imaginary puppet master pulling the strings of hydro plant opponents.
Most of the people opposing the project are long-term, even lifelong, full-time, hard working residents of Aspen who simply care deeply about these two streams. Many of us initially thought if anyone could do hydro right it would be Aspen. When we started looking more deeply and asking questions we ran into a wall of deceptions. It was very disheartening, and still is. There is nothing new or precedent setting in this ill-conceived project. It’s just another costly and destructive 19th century hydroelectric project. Aspen is hardly being a leader; in fact it is doing the opposite.
Let’s return to an open, civil discussion of the whole and real facts, in a true context of the situation. Deliberate distortions, paranoia and baseless fear mongering do nothing to further the goals of truly green renewable energy that we all share.
Ken Neubecker is the director of the Western Rivers Institute, based in Carbondale. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .