Grand Lake clarity stirs up debate
July 6, 2017
Water quality issues in Grand Lake will soon be back at the forefront as a Grand County-based group is pushing to change the water's designation, a move opposed by officials.
The Northwest Colorado Council of Governments will begin consideration of amending the 208 Water Plan governing Grand Lake at a meeting in late July. The first meeting, scheduled for 10 a.m. at the Grand Lake Community House on July 27, will be one of several Northwest Colorado COG will hold on the topic over the next three years, according to officials from Outstanding Grand Lake.
The move requesting designation of Grand Lake as an Outstanding Water comes on the heels of a Freedom of Information Act request from Outstanding Grand Lake, a nonprofit arm of the Grand Lake Chamber of Commerce promoting conservation and economic development of the upper Colorado River watershed.
The FOIA filing from Outstanding Grand Lake regarded deliberations between Northern Water and the Department of the Interior on Grand Lake clarity.
After reviewing comments made by officials from Northern Water during meetings with officials from the Department of the Interior in 2014 and 2015, Outstanding Grand Lake requested meetings to consider the designation.
"A review of the meeting minutes… should give us cause as to why Outstanding Water protection is needed for Grand Lake," stated a release from Outstanding Grand Lake.
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In a meeting held May 21, 2014, the minutes stated that if a structural solution requires pumping from Lake Granby directly into Grand Lake, then Shadow Mountain may need to be eliminated, according to the release.
In another meeting on March 17, 2015 between these same parties, the minutes recorded that an individual, whose name was withheld, does not want clarity in Grand Lake linked to the preservation of recreation and aesthetic values, citing that it was not a wise strategic move.
Officials from Northern Water told Sky-Hi News they do not support the move to change the designation of Grand Lake.
"We support the effort that has been going on for more than a decade," said Brian Werner, Northern spokesman. "We think this layer is probably not necessary. I guess we would like to see these decisions about how to improve quality, based on science rather than emotion."
Werner said Northern Water does not believe clarity should be linked to recreation and aesthetic values, adding that he could not provide the company's reasoning until he spoke with officials.
Northern Water is committed to clarity in Grand Lake, as he explained, but the company prefers adaptive management as the vehicle to improve clarity and not government regulations, which he referred to as "heavy handed".
According to Werner, discussions of "eliminating" or draining Shadow Mountain Reservoir were purely hypothetical. Any draining would be contingent upon installation of a pipeline running from Lake Granby to the Alva B. Adams Tunnel. Werner stressed Northern does not want to install a pipeline to address clarity problems in Grand Lake and as such sees the issue of Shadow Mountain's elimination as purely academic.
"We do not favor that," Werner confirmed.
That would represent a huge cost, probably $50 to $100 million, according to Werner. "But if that was what we wanted to do with Grand Lake clarity issues then we really wouldn't need Shadow Mountain."
Under the Clean Water Act, the state of Colorado has authority over water quality standards and designations in its lakes and rivers. There are three levels of classification for water quality: Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3.
Grand Lake is classified as a Tier 2 water where its protected uses are described as cold water aquatic resource, suitable for providing drinking water and are a recreation and aesthetic resource, according to Outstanding Grand.
An Outstanding Water designation, Tier 3, is the highest level of designation.
Tier 2 allows for degradation of water quality up to the point that it does not change the protected uses. The Tier 3 designation protects the same uses but does not allow for further water quality degradation beyond current levels.