Grand Lake clarity the focus of Grand County, volunteer effort |

Grand Lake clarity the focus of Grand County, volunteer effort

Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi Daily News
ALL | Sky-Hi Daily News

“It’s really a tough job because you have to go out on the lake once a week in beautiful weather and do something good for the environment,” said Pat Raney with a smile.

But this June morning, it’s chilly; the opening season of Secchi disc measuring.

The boat gets lined up just right using coordinates Raney has known for more than a decade: the red-roofed cabin on the north shore; the house behind the trees on the south shore; and the small, gray cabin near the canal.

When all lined up, she grabs her water-clarity tool named after an Italian man from the 1800s, a spindle of measuring tape with a black and white “Frisbee” attached to it, a Secchi disc.

Slowly, Raney lowers the disc into the depths of Grand Lake until she can no longer see it, then records the measurement: “9 feet, 2 inches,” she says.

She then lowers it a couple more feet: “9 feet, 4 inches,” she reports.

Raney then calculates the average between the two. Viola, the water clarity on June 4, 2008, in the middle of Grand Lake was 9 feet, 3 inches.

For years such data has been collected and sent directly to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment. Nowadays, the information is sent to the Colorado Lake and Reservoir Management Association, where it is processed for the Colorado Volunteer Lake Monitoring program, a system aspiring to be similar to the River Watch program where data is entered by volunteers, then quality-controlled by River Watch staff.

“Ultimately, we want this information on a Web server that will be available to everyone,” said Katherine Morris, Grand County’s water quality specialist.

Lately, measuring water quality has become an expanding program as Grand County recruits more volunteers to collect data. Working with other agencies and organizations to diagnose the overall health of Grand Lake, the county and others also have the aim of establishing a water quality standard for the natural lake, the first standard of its kind.

Working parallel with that goal is the notion of improving Grand Lake’s clarity by working with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Bureau of Reclamation to tweak water-pumping operations during times of high algae-bloom in late summer.

Morris is in the process of recruiting volunteers committed to taking measurements through this and subsequent summers on not only the Three Lakes in the Grand Lake area, but other lakes such as Wolford, Williams Fork, Willow Creek ” even non-Colorado Big-Thompson lakes such as Columbine and Monarch lakes, to assess lake health in all area lakes.

“Belly boaters can also take Secchi disc measurements,” Morris said.

Raney, a shoreline resident, is entering her 12th year of measuring water quality on Grand Lake, a volunteer opportunity upon joining the Three Lakes Watershed Association when she and her husband John moved to the area in the late 1990s.

Raney learned the ways of the Secchi disc from another Three Lakes member, the late Stoddard White, who from visiting the Grand Lake during boyhood became an advocate for the health of Colorado’s largest natural body of water.

His dedication to Grand Lake is embodied in efforts spearheaded by not only Three Lakes, but by the Greater Grand Lake Shoreline Association representing nearly 50 concerned families and property owners around Grand Lake.

For a year, those groups, the county and the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments have been attempting to secure a water quality standard for the lake.

Monday, June 9, is the final hearing on the matter at Grand Junction City Hall, and the public is encouraged to attend ” even testify.

Grand Lakers and the county believe language in a Senate document written in 1937 authorizing the construction of the Colorado Big-Thompson Project protects Grand Lake from any impacts associated with water being pumped through it on its way to Northeastern Colorado communities and farms.

Data published in September 1941 notes water clarity in Grand Lake at 30. 2 feet, a far cry from the average 10.2 feet taken from data collected 1990 to 2006 by not only Raney and company, but the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Water Quality Control Division.

“An example of a poor transparency reading is 1.45 meters, or 4.8 feet,” Morris said.

Sarah Clements of the Grand County Information Network, an organization that compiles water data, reported that measurements taken last summer showed clarity as shallow as 4.48 feet.

During the drawdown last year, when pumping ceased to kill off lakebed weeds in a drained Shadow Mountain Reservoir, clarity in Grand Lake improved to a recorded 18.5 feet.

The Bureau is looking in to making changes in pumping operations to “optimize clarity,” according to Morris, and is looking at ways that can be done in accordance with power generation that occurs throughout the C-BT system.

“The volunteer program is to have some way to measure if any changes in their pumping cycle improve clarity,” Morris said.

Fifteen volunteers have stepped up to help and are in the process of being trained so that 10 locations on Grand Lake and at least three on Shadow Mountain Reservoir can be measured.

And more volunteers are welcomed.

If the state Water Quality Control Division finds in the upcoming hearing that 4 meters, or 13.2 feet is a reasonable standard for Grand Lake, that value will be a target that Northern will need to achieve in spite of operations.

Grand County’s stance is that the scenic attraction of the lake is impaired.

So far, Northern has opposed the proposed standard, according to documents online concerning the Water Quality hearings.

“If this ruling does come through, and we do get the quality standard,” Morris said, “(the volunteer program) will be a good way to know what’s happening on Grand Lake.”

At the end of her reading, and after recording the perceived color of the lake water, Raney wheels up the tape measure and closes her note binder. From proceedings, she has learned that the data she and White kept through the years is now the longest, most continuous data set recorded for Grand Lake.

“So that makes me feel good,” she said, peering into the cold mountain water.

“Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail

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