Aspen Recommits to Improving Roaring Fork Flows

Mitzi Rapkin, City of Aspen, (970) 920-5082,
David Hornbacher, City of Aspen, (970) 429-1983,
Phil Overeynder, City of Aspen, (970) 920-5111,
Amy Beatie, Colorado Water Trust, (720) 570-2897,

Aspen Recommits to Improving Roaring Fork Flows
For a second year in a row, Aspen will adjust City water use to benefit community river

Locals have long been concerned about the amount of water flowing in the upper Roaring Fork River, which is depleted by large water diversions. Last year, in an effort to begin exploring solutions to benefit the Roaring Fork, the City of Aspen reduced the amount of water it took from the river at the Wheeler Ditch which is southeast of downtown. This allows more water to flow downstream through Aspen, bolstering low flows. At last night’s City Council meeting, Council approved implementing the pilot program that the City developed with the Colorado Water Trust in 2013 for a second year in a row. Under the program, the City will decrease the amount of water it takes from the river whenever the local Colorado Water Conservation Board instream flow water right of 32 c.f.s. is not satisfied.

As a result of Aspen’s efforts, the Roaring Fork in the summer of 2013 saw an increase of about 2 to 3 cubic-feet-per-second (c.f.s.)—roughly 10% of average streamflow in 2013—in the reach of river that flows through town from July 10th through the end of the irrigation season (see figure). By running this experimental water project for two years in a row in vastly different conditions, this year’s data will help project partners gain a better understanding of how on-the-ground actions can keep the Roaring Fork flowing through Aspen.

“We are thrilled that Aspen has shown their commitment to understanding and improving flows in the Roaring Fork River by agreeing to alter their operations and study the effects for a second year in a row. We hope that Aspen’s strong leadership will bring the community together in seeking solutions to keep the Roaring Fork flowing every year, wet or dry,” said Amy Beatie, Executive Director of the Colorado Water Trust.

While the median peak snowpack measure at Independent Pass, an important indicator of future stream flows, reached 137% on April 15, 2014, the Roaring Fork River will not necessarily see average or above average flow through the summer. Climactic factors during spring and summer, such as monsoon rains, temperatures, and precipitation all impact streamflows. Administration on the river also plays a big part in the amount of water that flows through the reach that Aspen’s project benefits. In above average water years, upstream diverters take larger amounts of water from the river. Gathering data in a second and different water year will help the partners understand how to mitigate low flows.

The City of Aspen and the Colorado Water Trust both hope that other water users will consider contributing their water rights and additional flow to the river, creating a community solution.

“If the data shows that a modest amount of water can make an appreciable difference to the riparian environment and natural habitat in the Roaring Fork, other water users may be encouraged by the results and consider how they could benefit the river,” said David Hornbacher, Director of Utilities and Environmental Initiatives for the City of Aspen.

Any water rights owners interested in discussing the use of their water for environmental benefits should contact Amy Beatie, Executive Director for the Colorado Water Trust at or 720-570-2897.

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The Colorado Water Trust is a private, nonprofit organization that engages in and supports voluntary efforts to restore and protect streamflows in Colorado to sustain healthy aquatic ecosystems. These efforts include water acquisitions, other creative transfers of water, on-the-ground physical solutions, and providing technical assistance to land trusts.

The City of Aspen is located high in the Rocky Mountains and is the 53rd largest city in the state. Two hundred miles southwest of Denver and 130 miles east of Grand Junction, it is at the southeastern end of the Roaring Fork Valley in Pitkin County and the Roaring Fork River flows right through town. Aspen is surrounded by the White River National Forest. Aspen encompasses 3.66 square miles and is a relatively flat valley floor surrounded on three sides by Aspen, Smuggler and Red Mountains. It was founded in 1880 and incorporated in 1881. Aspen is internationally renowned as a winter and summer resort.

Aspen Recommits to Improving Roaring Fork Flows