Council delays action on Grand Lake water standards
A lengthy and contentious public hearing on the regulatory status of Grand Lake ended inconclusively last week as the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments punted on the issue, tabling a request from a local conservation group to amend the water plan governing the region and postponing additional formal discussion until the fall of 2018.
The Council of Governments’s public hearing last week regarded a request from Outstanding Grand Lake to amend the 208 Water Quality Management Plan for the region. Outstanding Grand Lake is a nonprofit arm of the Grand Lake Chamber of Commerce promoting conservation and economic development in the upper Colorado River watershed. The group requested Northwest COG amend the 208 Water Plan to recommend the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission designate Grand Lake as an outstanding water.
Designation of Grand Lake as an outstanding water would add additional layers of regulatory protection for Colorado’s largest natural body of water but could also complicate future plans to address clarity issues relating to the entire Three Lakes water system.
The request is considered a prelude to Outstanding Grand Lake’s plans to lobby for designation of Grand Lake as an Outstanding Water under the federal Clean Water Act. That decision can only be made by the state Water Quality Commission.
Changing the 208 Water Plan, over which Northwest COG has jurisdiction, would not change the lake’s designation but would likely help Outstanding Grand Lake’s effort to redesignate the lake with the Water Quality Commission. The likelihood of having Grand Lake designated an Outstanding Water in absence of a 208 Water Plan recommendation is highly questionable.
Thursday’s hearing stretched on for roughly four hours as the council and public heard from staff members of Northwest COG and Northern Water along with representatives for Outstanding Grand Lake and numerous local citizens.
While Northwest COG did not outright deny the request to amend the water plan, the stated position of the council was decidedly opposed to the move.
The Northwest COG staff recommendation, from Water Quality/Quantity Committee Co-Director Lane Wyatt, was to delay making a decision until alternative solutions to address quality and clarity in Grand Lake are developed. Wyatt added he believed Grand Lake meets only one of three requirements for Outstanding Water designation and the lake would not be able to attain the designation regardless of action taken by the Council.
Wyatt pointed out several areas that concerned him regarding potential future designation. Among the most pressing concerns were the impacts Outstanding Water designation would have on future attempts to address clarity problems linked to Shadow Mountain Reservoir. Wyatt also noted the Bureau of Reclamation, and by extension transmountain diversions, are not subject to water quality regulations.
“Windy Gap and the Firming Project have permits in place and would not be affected by this,” Wyatt said. “Designation as Outstanding Water does not afford protection for the impacts of that.”
For their part Outstanding Grand Lake rebutted many points raised by Wyatt regarding whether or not Grand Lake could qualify for Outstanding Water designation. Ken Fucik, a Grand Lake resident retired environmental scientist and supporter of Outstanding Grand Lake, presented water quality data he argued proved the lake meets the necessary criteria while Grand Lake Chamber Director Samantha Bruegger addressed other concerns such as the need for additional protection.
In the end the council appeared largely opposed to the move but were not yet prepared to deny the request outright and voted to delay action until the fall of 2018.
The council’s position was arguably summed up by COG Council member and Grand County Commissioner Rich Cimino. Grand County Commissioners oppose designation of Grand Lake as an outstanding water, citing concerns regarding unintended consequences the designation would have on other plans to address water clarity and quality in the Three Lakes.
“I think this allows the best opportunity to not kill this initiative at this time and also allows us to get together,” Cimino said. “My reservation is, I just think the preponderance of evidence and even the comments heard on this panel appears to be leaning towards the negative decision and I would hate sort of to waste a bunch of people’s time all the way until Nov. 18. I think this is the safest route.”
Consideration of Outstanding Water designation for Grand Lake does not formally pertain to water quality or clarity issues impacting Shadow Mountain Reservoir.
While concern for the future of Shadow Mountain was a precipitating factor that influenced Outstanding Grand Lake to seek additional protections for Grand Lake, Northwest COG’s consideration of the issue is not officially related to Shadow Mountain Reservoir and would regulate only Grand Lake. Such a designation could impact future plans to address clarity concerns with Shadow Mountain though.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.