roaring fork

The Roaring Fork River near Henry Stein Park pictured in July last year. So far, the river is running at about 70% of normal for this time of year, a point of concern pointed out by both Aspen City Council members and staff alike Tuesday.

Tuesday’s Aspen City Council meeting marked the end of an era: it was Ann Mullins’ last after serving eight years in her seat. 

“When I came to Aspen in 1971 — which, if you do the math, is 50 years ago — I’m not that old, but it was 50 years ago. I never thought then — oh my goodness, I’m already getting choked up — I never thought sitting at a council table … was in my future,” Mullins said before Mayor Torre, whom she ran against unsuccessfully in a spirited race in 2019, gave her the honor of adjourning her final meeting. 

“Aspen was wonderful. It was the ’70s, remember, and young people ruled the world. Or they thought they did. … And Aspen was such an exciting, exciting place, and people were doing such wonderful things,” she continued.

But as wonderful as Aspen was then, Mullins hadn’t quite found her place in the town. So she moved — though not after spending one summer living in a tent off Castle Creek (“Housing was tough then, too,” she quipped) — continued her education and had a family. When she came back to the valley, she found a real home: on Aspen City Council. 

Mullins didn’t shy away from the pride she felt in the accomplishments she and her colleagues on council achieved during her eight-year tenure, but she was quick to acknowledge the other plays that made that work possible.

“It’s council, it’s staff, it’s community that's getting things done,” she said. “We saw this so clearly during COVID-19. It was one of the best examples I’ve ever seen and one of the proudest moments that I’ve had on council. In the end, it’s really a team effort. So … thank you to the community that elected me to this honorable position — [it’s been the] biggest honor of my life.”

During her time serving the city — as either a city council member or on the Historic Preservation Commission or on the Ruedi Water and Power board “and before that, who knows,” Torre joked during Tuesday’s meeting — Mullins was vocally passionate about her love of the city’s historic character, as well as the water required to keep it running smoothly. 

She recently won statewide recognition for both. During a May 25 meeting, she accepted the prestigious Elizabeth Paepke Award recognizing her commitment to historic preservation. Before that, in April, Mullins earned a leadership award from the WaterNow Alliance for her work “on the development of water efficiency plans and programs that helped Aspen become a model for smart and practical water demand management across the state and Colorado Basin.” 

It’s that latter point that was a central concern still voiced Tuesday, and not just by Mullins. Councilmember Rachel Richards expressed a desire for council to receive an update on water conditions every two weeks. 

“What you're going to start to see is curtailment of water uses by communities,” Richards said, noting that Lake Powell, which is more than 138 feet below “full pool” — reporting roughly 38% of the average June 7 water inflow average, according to the Lake Powell Water Database

If Lake Powell seems geographically out of mind, it shouldn’t, she continued.

“[They’re] paying farmers not to grow in fallow fields so their water can run into Lake Powell,” Richards said, “but if that gets to not be enough, junior water rights in our watershed will be turned off. Places that were able to irrigate … their rights to draw from the river will be curtailed for more rights further down the system.”

To further illustrate her point, Richards noted that Aspen doesn’t have a long-term water storage solution.

“We are a city in a relatively precarious situation, given that we don’t have long-term reservoir supplies — [a] three-to-four-day supply, not even that,” she said. “We’re mucking out one of our ponds now to be able to hold a little more, but everything is connected in the water world. Our former Sen. Gail Schwartz sent me a photo of Ruedi Reservoir and it doesn’t look that good at all.”

Mullins echoed Richards’ sentiment, going so far as to suggest that were she able to continue serving on future council meetings, she’d push for the city to consider going from its current Stage 2 water restrictions to the more-severe Stage 3.

“The soil itself is so dry that it’s absorbing up to 20, 25% of the water that’s coming from the snowmelt,” Mullins said Tuesday. “The Roaring Fork [River] may look fairly healthy and robust right now, but it’s actually 70% of the normal flow this time of year. If I were you guys, I’d start looking at Stage 3.”

Aspen City Manager Sara Ott assured Torre and council members that communication about water concerns is a top priority.

“The groundwater table is not recharged. That is why when you go out on some of our trails that are normally in good condition, they’re already dust. If we get lucky with a good monsoon season, I’ll feel a lot better, but that's not for us to decide,” she said.

Megan Tackett is the editor for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at megan@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @MeganTackett10.