GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Garfield County is prepared to withdraw its longtime membership in the Ruedi Water & Power Authority, as part of the county commissioners’ efforts to trim more than half a million dollars from their discretionary budget.
“If we are asking our employees to cut their [departmental] budgets, then we had to cut ours as well,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said. “In doing that, we discussed which of our memberships are working for us, and which weren’t.”
He conceded the Ruedi Water & Power Authority is a good forum for communicating with the area municipalities on water-related issues within the Roaring Fork River watershed.
But the overall benefit of maintaining the $4,750 annual membership in the intergovernmental organization was not cost effective, Jankovsky and the other commissioners determined in recent budget discussions.
Garfield County will remain a member of the authority through this year, but is expected to end the affiliation for next year when the 2014 county budget is considered for final approval in December.
Overall, Jankovsky said the commissioners are prepared to make about $600,000 in cuts to the board’s budget, including trimming its discretionary grants program from about $500,000 this year to $250,000 in 2014.
The Ruedi Water & Power Authority was formed in 1981 by the city of Aspen and Pitkin County to develop the hydropower plant at Ruedi Reservoir, located on the Fryingpan River east of Basalt.
Operation of the power plant now rests solely with the city of Aspen, while the Water & Power Authority now operates as an intergovernmental organization focused on water quality issues and water resource efficiency within the Roaring Fork River watershed.
Its membership includes Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties, and all of the municipalities from Aspen to Glenwood Springs.
“This is certainly a disappointing development,” said Mark Fuller, the longtime executive director for Ruedi Water and Power. “Garfield County has been a part of the authority for many decades, and we have benefited from having their perspective and support.
“Having them drop out certainly weakens us as an organization,” he said.
The authority, which operates on a $35,000 to $38,000 annual budget, has a “fairly broad charge,” Fuller said.
“We have sponsored several different projects in the last several years,” he said, including partnering with the Roaring Fork Conservancy to develop the Roaring Fork Watershed Plan.
In recent years, the authority has also been responsible for a boat inspection program at Ruedi Reservoir to check for invasive aquatic species, including the zebra mussel.
“We have invested in and paid for that program since 2010,” Fuller said. “Invasive shellfish have appeared in a number of western water bodies.”
So far, Ruedi has remained free of the mussels, which can cause significant damage to boats and the reservoir infrastructure itself, as well as the hydroelectric plant.
“Once they are established and reproducing, they can take over an ecosystem and there’s very little or nothing you can do to [eradicate] them,” Fuller said. “The only thing you can do is put preventative programs in place to make sure it doesn’t happen.”
He credits the $27,000-per-year boat inspection program for keeping Ruedi free of the mussels thus far.
The program includes on-site inspectors five days of the week during the months when the reservoir is in use for boating. State and U.S. Forest Service grants have also helped pay for that program, but those may also be going away next year, Fuller said.
“We are putting together a proposal for our local governments to take over that program, and we are still hoping there may be some grant funds available,” he said.