City of Aspen reaches agreement with five parties on moving Maroon and Castle creek water rights

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Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Under conditional water rights held by the city of Aspen since 1965, a 155-foot-tall dam would be built in this location on Maroon Creek to store 4,567 acre-feet of water. The city of Aspen has reached agreements with 10 opposing parties in water court to move the water rights to other locations.

The city of Aspen now has signed settlement agreements from five of the 10 parties opposing its efforts in water court to maintain conditional water storage rights tied to large potential dams on Maroon and Castle creeks, including Pitkin County, Wilderness Workshop, Western Resource Advocates, and two private-property owners in the Castle Creek valley.

“Aspen agrees that it will forego the right to store water pursuant to these water rights at the original decreed locations,” a May 24 staff memo from the city states.

The five parties that have yet to sign agreements include the U.S. Forest Service, American Rivers, Trout Unlimited, and two property owners in the Maroon Creek valley.

According to a draft resolution that the city council is expected to approve at a regular meeting on Tuesday, city staffers and the city attorney “have diligently negotiated with the remaining opposers to seek settlement in regarding their opposition and staff and its attorney believe that stipulations substantially similar to the attached stipulations will be entered with the remaining opposers.”

The city has said that none of the agreements are binding unless all 10 parties agree to the settlement terms.

As the city works through settlement negotiations with the parties, the resulting agreements can become more restrictive, but not less so, which is a common approach to settling water court cases.

For example, the agreement signed by an attorney for Pitkin County regarding Maroon Creek Reservoir does not include the county-owned Moore Open Space as one of the sites where the city may move its storage right, as did an earlier version of the agreement signed by Wilderness Workshop.

Other potential water-storage sites include the current Woody Creek gravel pit site, a piece of vacant land next to the gravel pit recently purchased by the city for potential water storage, the city-owned Zoline open space between the Maroon Creek Club and the Burlingame housing project, the city-owned Cozy Point Open Space at the bottom of Brush Creek Road, and the city’s municipal golf course.

Under the agreements, the city will seek to transfer its conditional water storage rights from the upper Castle and Maroon creek valleys to these other potential reservoir sites, with a maximum storage capacity of 8,500 acre-feet.

Source: City of Aspen

A map prepared for the City of Aspen that shows the five potential water-storage sites in the Roaring Fork River valley.

1971 decree

The city has held the conditional water rights for the Castle and Maroon creek reservoirs since 1965 and they carry a 1971 decree date, which the city hopes to carry to the other potential locations.

The potential Maroon Creek Reservoir would hold 4,567 acre-feet of water behind a 155-foot-tall dam on USFS property within view of the Maroon Bells. It would also flood a portion of the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.

The potential Castle Creek Reservoir would hold 9,062 acre-feet behind a 170-foot-tall dam, mainly on private property, two miles below Ashcroft.

Western Resource Advocates and Wilderness Workshop issued a press release about their agreements with the city on Thursday afternoon.

The release was sent out after the city of Aspen posted the meeting packet for a scheduled May 29 Aspen City Council meeting.

Aspen Public Radio posted a story on Thursday afternoon with the headline, “Aspen agrees to never build dams on Castle and Maroon.”

The Aspen Times and the Aspen Daily News also wrote stories Thursday evening about the city’s progress in reaching settlements with opposing parties.

As part of the deal with the five parties who have signed agreements, or stipulations as they are called in water court, the opposing parties have agreed not to oppose the city’s efforts to change the water rights to the new locations for 20 years.

Six of the 10 parties who filed statements of opposition in December 2016, in response to the city’s due-diligence filing in October 2016, filed in both the Maroon and Castle creek cases.

But the two pairs of private-property owners filed in only one case each.

Double R Creek Limited, and ASP Properties, which control property in the Castle Creek valley where the potential dam would have been built, only filed in the Castle Creek case. They have both signed settlement agreements.

However, Larsen Family LP and Roaring Fork Land and Cattle Co., which own land in the Maroon Creek valley, have yet to sign agreements with the city.

The cases are being processed in Division 5 Water Court in Glenwood Springs. The next status conference in the case is scheduled for June 26, and the 18-month mark in the case is June 30.

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