leonard thomas reservoir

The city of Aspen stores water in the Leonard Thomas Reservoir on Doolittle Road, pictured above. On Monday, city staff presented city council with an Integrated Resource Plan, which ensures a safe, legal and reliable water system.  

Aspen City Council heard from the utilities and public works departments at a Monday work session about an Integrated Water Resource Plan, which will assess the community’s future water needs. 

The city uses such a plan to ensure a safe, legal and reliable water system for today’s uses and into the future. Work began on the plan in October of 2019, Utilities Director Tyler Christoff said, and was a collaborative effort from organizations across the Roaring Fork Valley.

“I think it is important to highlight that this project has been going on for more than two years,” Christoff said. “I really only mention the timeline to highlight the massive amount of work that’s gone into this and hopefully the recommendations that you will make tonight.”

The plan was created to allow the city to look ahead until the year 2070. It also includes solutions for different scenarios and how the city would respond, but Christoff said it is hard to predict the future, especially 50 years out. For that reason, the city allowed itself a wide range of possibilities so they could be best prepared for anything.

In its studies, the city found that climate change is a primary factor affecting water supplies and demands. Based on current conditions, the city predicts seeing snowfall and water supply peaks earlier in the year going forward, as well as longer and more frequent drought conditions and higher outdoor demands, particularly in the summertime. Other factors also put the reliability of the city’s water supply at risk, including things like wildfires, avalanches and floods, as well as more common incidents, such as staff turnover and power outages.

The city also considered population growth as the plan was created, as well as the projected water use efficiency for the future. Based on projections, Project Manager John Rehring said the city’s existing supplies will fall short of demand. That’s why the city left itself room for a wide range of possibilities when creating the plan, he said.

“You could plan for the worst and hope for the best,” he said. “Planning for the worst is a good idea, but hoping for the best is not so good because if that best doesn’t happen, you want to be ready.”

The plan includes six portfolios or solutions the city can utilize in the future depending on conditions. Worst case scenario, the city would take advantage of existing water sources — like Maroon Creek and Castle Creek — and a few new sources such as currently unused wells, irrigation reuse and seasonal and emergency water storage. 

Christoff also pointed out that the city’s service territory is almost twice the size of city limits. The city feeds water to the airport, Red Mountain, Buttermilk and other surrounding areas. Demand varies year to year, he said, depending on things like drought conditions and visitation, and this year the city is seeing a demand for 3,000-5,000 acre feet of water. 

The city is also seeing a demand for about 8-10 million gallons of groundwater per day, which the city’s wells can handle during the winter months. Christoff said it sounds like a lot of water, but a lot of people are in need of it. 

After the presentation, council members offered their support and thanked staff for their efforts. 

“The work that you guys are doing is some of the most important that Aspen will see,” Mayor Torre said. “This is an issue we all need to pay attention to… This requires us to be participatory in our solutions.”

Staff will return to council at a future meeting for approval and adoption of the plan by resolution.