When flows in the Roaring Fork River through Aspen drop below 32 cubic feet per second (cfs), the city of Aspen has agreed to reduce diversions it takes at the Wheeler Ditch, adding as much as 8 cfs to the stream.
To accommodate this project, Aspen will lease less water to third parties than it has in the past, reduce outdoor water use, and redirect other water supplies to meet the city’s critical needs, according to a press release. City Council agreed this week to pursue these actions and enter into a nondiversion agreement with the Colorado Water Trust, which will help monitor flows in the reach and help oversee the project.
The city notes that flows in the Roaring Fork are hurt by transbasin diversions to the Eastern Slope, where a system of tunnels and reservoirs near Independence Pass takes a large percentage of the river’s headwaters.
“Our [Roaring Fork] water rights are small in comparison to the amount of water that would flow through the stream under natural conditions,” said Dave Hornbacher, Aspen’s director of utilities and environmental initiatives.
After seeing the river suffer a hard year in 2012, a brainstorming group was formed in March to review the city’s water rights and to explore options for using those rights to benefit the Roaring Fork.
Last year, during severe drought conditions, reaches of the Roaring Fork were nearly dry in parts of June, July, August, and October. The outlook for this year is not as dire, fortunately.
“Leaving some of the city’s water in the Roaring Fork through this short-term nondiversion agreement will allow us to understand the benefits additional water can provide to the natural habitat,” added Hornbacher. “We see this project as a first step in crafting a broader, long-term solution for rewatering the Roaring Fork, an effort that will require the help of our entire community.”