Outside traffic study approved, development decisions stand
Aspen City Council voted to move forward Monday with the purchase of 400 acre feet of water from Ruedi Reservoir, which could give the municipal government more flexibility to pursue water projects if the resource becomes more scarce in the future.
Aspen is one of 18 entities in the early stages of contracting for 19,585 unsold acre feet from the reservoir. If the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation goes through with the sale, which would help pay down outstanding debt from building the reservoir, Aspen could use the additional cushion to satisfy downstream water users if they “call out” water from the Roaring Fork watershed.
Aspen’s water supply, which it draws mostly from Castle and Maroon creeks, is currently adequate to meet demand, even with full build-out of the town. However, that may not be the case in the future if climate change alters the amount of water coming down the creeks, or the timing of peak runoff.
The city has a number of potential water projects in the short and long term that could benefit from the extra cushion, including the idea of building more ponds on the golf course and open space lands that could be drained in a call-out scenario. The city also is considering projects that would see recycled water reused for irrigation; the government might not be able to run these “pumpback” projects if there is not enough water to satisfy downstream users. And while city officials say it is a last alternative, if there is a need for significant water storage in the future, the government holds conditional water rights to build dams on upper Castle and Maroon creeks.
The ability to maintain all those water projects would be protected by the Ruedi water purchase.
When asked about the dams on Monday by Councilman Adam Frisch, city utilities engineer Phil Overeynder said they are a last resort, and that the city has kept plans for them on the books since 1970.
There should be a bigger conversation about the implications of climate change and what it might mean for the local water supply, Overeynder said.
“What needs to occur is, we need to have an analysis to look at all the alternatives that are on the table, to bring the public into that process, to look at what kind of alternatives would meet our long-term water supply needs if there was a change in the long term about how soon runoff occurs, and what those alternatives are,” Overeynder said, noting that any future plans would have to be looked at from an environmental, economic and public accountability standpoint.
The federal government will next conduct an environmental assessment of the water sale. Aspen’s purchase contract would see it get 400 acre feet for $511,000. The city could use that water to benefit stream health, Overeynder said, if it is not needed for water projects, and it also would likely be able to sell it in the future, since demand for water is not likely to decrease.
Also at Monday’s meeting, council approved a contract tasking a Denver firm with studying local traffic patterns and establishing a model that can be used to estimate how much traffic new development would generate. The $99,881 agreement also will see the Fehr and Peers firm examine options the city and developers can use to reduce traffic impacts.
Council also reviewed advisory board decisions that recommended approval of two new development projects.
A project replacing a one-story building known as the Red Onion annex with a three-story building on the Cooper Avenue mall was approved conceptually by the Historic Preservation Commission this fall, but Councilman Steve Skadron was concerned that its height would intrude on a protected viewplane from the Wheeler Opera House to Aspen Mountain. The city’s planning office maintains that it does not because there already are two bigger buildings between it and the Wheeler, so the viewplane issue is moot. Council voted 4-1, with Skadron dissenting, not to remand the decision back to HPC, but council members will still get to vote on the project when it comes before them for subdivision review next year.
Council also reviewed a decision granting conceptual approval to a project that would see a third-story expansion built on top of a two-story building at 616 E. Hyman Ave. The Planning and Zoning Commission granted conceptual approval, but Councilman Torre had concerns with elements of the building’s design. But since design elements are typically considered during final review, council voted not to remand the project back to the advisory board.
Finally, council met in executive session to discuss a potential settlement offer in a case involving the city utilities department, City Attorney Jim True said. While no litigation has been filed in the case, it could be forthcoming from a city utility customer, True said, declining to give further details. The council discussed an offer that could preempt a suit.