Grand County agenda focuses on water issues, beetle kill mitigation
Sky-Hi Daily News
Grand Lake, Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Lake Granby have been deemed “high priority” in the state for taking action to prevent infiltration of non-native zebra mussels ” and that may mean implementing a boat inspection program when funding becomes available, according to Colorado Division of Wildlife Area Wildlife Manager Lyle Sidener.
Sidener made a presentation about zebra mussels during a public information meeting Saturday in Grand Lake, hosted by the town and Grand County commissioners.
“Just about everything that depends on water can be affected by these. Agriculture, fisheries, power production, recreation ” and all of those are right here in Grand County, obviously,” Sidener said, adding that the economic impacts of mussels if introduced to the area would be “devastating.”
It’s estimated $138 billion is spent each year trying to control the spread of the one-inch Eurasian mollusk. Considered adaptive to fresh-water and formidable survivors, they can multiply rapidly. They adhere to any hard surface in water with byssal threads, encrusting docks, boats, ramps, rocks, even other aquatic creatures.
Native mussels can be distinguished from zebra mussels by their lack of those attachment threads, Sidener said.
The mussels spread from water body to water body by attaching themselves to any part of a water craft.
Native to the Caspian and Black seas, zebra mussels have already taken over lakes in Europe and were introduced to America in 1988 by ballast water from ships in the Great Lakes.
Lake Havasu, Lake Powell and Lake Mead are infested, Sidener reported, and last February, zebra-mussel larvae were confirmed to have been found in Colorado’s Pueblo Reservoir.
The Colorado State Assembly and Gov. Bill Ritter passed legislation this year to provide funding for lake protection, which will be available in July.
In the meantime, the Division of Wildlife is launching its educational message to “Clean your boat, drain your boat and dry your boat” before trailering it to another lake. “Signs should be up before the end of the month on all boat ramps to get the message out,” Sidener said.
“Drying can kill the mussels; the problem is, when you go today to Lake Granby, Williams Fork the next, then maybe Wolford the next, that boat is not going to be dry,” he said. “So there’s some things that we need to take into account.”
A nationwide campaign called the 100th Meridian Initiative, which began to try and prevent the spread of the mussels past the 100th Meridian, notes that the average boat-drying time in Colorado is up to 40 days during the cooler days of spring and three to five days in mid-summer. Boats must be thoroughly washed with 140-degree water to try and remove the aquatic hitchhikers.
The DOW is monitoring what it considers high-risk lakes that have multiple boat ramps, marinas and boats coming from areas affected such as from the Midwest or lakes Mead, Powell and Havasu.
“Monitoring has stepped up for the high-priority lakes in the state,” Sidener said.
“Inspections can be implemented. We’re hoping when money becomes available in July, there is money for the Division of Wildlife for temporary employees to do inspections on lakes. I don’t know how that’s going to apply statewide, it’s limited money and a limited number of people who we could use for those inspections. I would think there is going to be some level of inspection in the Three Lakes Area, but I can’t say what that might be,” he said.
Zebra mussels weren’t the only topic of interest at Saturday’s meeting. The gathering of mostly a Grand Lake-area crowd covered water matters, forest health issues, erosion/sediment control and emergency management with presentations by county division heads and spokespersons from agencies such as Rocky Mountain National Park, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the U.S. Forest Service.
Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran explained county taxpayers’ interest in water matters, such as the Denver and Windy Gap firming projects poised to transport more water out of the county, the Wild and Scenic Designation of the Colorado River from Kremmling to Dotsero, the Lower Blue Management Plan, the Vail Ditch and the county-driven Stream Management Plan now entering its third and final phase.
The county will have spent $1 million on the Stream management Plan by the end of this year.
“So your tax dollars are going to protect the water resources and the things that bring us to Grand County, keep us in Grand County and the things we’re proud of,” Underbrink Curran said.
Grand County is in negotiations with both Denver Water and Northern regarding West Slope river health.
“Grand County has always believed that with the cooperation of Denver, Northern and the Bureau of Reclamation and all the spigots and pipes that could be connected or could be utilized in conjunction with each other, that we could do a better job at keeping water in the streams at the time that it’s necessary,” Underbrink Curran said.
“Denver, Northern and the Bureau of Rec. have agreed that that is something that we should look at as part of the Colorado River Basin proposal.”
The audience was told what many already knew from a Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Grand Lake algae scare last year: Some algae produces toxins.
Last year toxic-algae levels measured by the Grand County Water Information Network were considered beyond safe-drinking standards set by the World Health Organization.
This year, the lakes will undergo weekly sample tests, Grand County Water Quality Specialist Katherine Morris said.
“This year we hope blooms won’t be as bad as in 2007 because we’re two years out from the Shadow Mountain Reservoir drawdown,” she said during a slide show.
The county will be testing weekly during bloom season in five water bodies, and an emergency response plan is being developed for drinking water and recreational use.
Moreover, according to Morris, samples will be analyzed this year for the chemicals carbaryl and permythrin, pesticides used to fight off mountain-pine beetles.
The testing will be done in Grand Lake, Shadow Mountain, Granby and Windy Gap reservoirs, as well as the mouth of the North Fork of the Colorado River.
Also regarding lakes, Northern Water Deputy Manager of Operations Brad Wind said the 56-day drawdown of Shadow Mountain Reservoir cost $137,000 in energy to pump water back into Lake Granby two years ago. The drawdown took place on 500 acres to kill off pervasive weeds in the shallow lake. Due to snow cover, some plants survived, but from one assessment, weeds have been reduced, Wind reported.
“The algae problem is a concern here; I recognize that, Northern Water recognizes that,” Wind said. “But it’s a concern to users who ultimately receive that water as well.
We support the monitoring here, but also monitoring as that water cascades through the Big-Thompson system into the terminal reservoirs.”
As Grand County and other organizations fight for an official water-quality standard for Grand Lake at a state-level hearing today, Jaci Gould of the Bureau of Reclamation said Saturday that a pipeline loosely proposed by West Slope lake advocates to divert water to the East Slope, circumventing Grand Lake altogether, is not something the Bureau is considering due to the challenge of acquiring “appropriations from Congress and the authority to do the analyses.”
“We are not actively pursuing that as an agency,” she said.
Shadow Mountain residents of Grand Lake didn’t hear what they’d hoped for about treatment plans on the south-shore slope of Rocky Mountain National Park land.
They learned there aren’t any.
Mark McCutcheon, Park Colorado River District ranger, informed residents that although the Park is doing tree work in high-use areas of its territory, Shadow Mountain, considered the visible “poster-child” of mountain beetle devastation, is a place that both logistically and economically cannot be marked for tree-removal. It is, however, a place targeted for primary fire response, McCutcheon said.
“We will, with partners, try to put out that fire,” he said.
“There’s only so much we can do with Shadow Mountain,” he said.
Park policy has been to treat backcountry territory as wilderness, “to allow Mother Nature, who is kicking our keister, do what she does, and she happens to be weeding her garden right now,” McCutcheon said.
An update from U.S. Forest District Ranger of the Arapaho National Forest, Craig Magwire, said the Willow Creek tree-removal project, which would comprise of 18,000 acres of harvesting and hand work, is going to be considered this fall.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service is concentrating on other district projects and is taking out older trees around camping areas. As many as 4,000 trees were removed just this spring in campgrounds, and another 12,000 are planned for removal, Magwire said. “It’s an expensive job to do, as many of you know.”
On the county front, Division of Natural Resources Foreman Jennifer Murray told the audience that the beefed-up burn program saw 113 burn days out of 159 available last season with an estimated 5,500 piles burned.
That amounts to 13 million cubic-feet of woody debris, Murray said. Federal agencies burned another 1 million cubic-feet, she said.
During the peak pile-burn time before the Christmas holiday, 250 piles were burned daily, she reported.
The burn season is now closed, save for campfire-sized burns 3 feet-by-3 feet-by-2 feet.
Murray also announced that the county’s tree-removal project is in full swing, with priority roads that connect to highways its principal target.
County tree-removal in the Grand Lake area will follow the evacuation plan from north to south, taking out all lodgepole trees greater than 4 feet in diameter or standing-dead of another variety, Murray said. “Our goal is to have all primary roads completed by 2010.”
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