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Grand Lake looks to clean up its storm runoff

by Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi Daily News

Mounting water-clarity issues in Colorado’s largest natural lake has prompted various water users and governments to point fingers at who’s to blame.

In the meantime, the town of Grand Lake, which borders its namesake, is setting itself up to improve storm water drainage.

“It’s no news to anyone here that our lake quality has been less than desirable,” wrote Grand Lake Town Manager Shane Hale in a Nov. 9 memo to the town board.

“And like it or not, we are currently part of the problem, not the solution.”

This sentiment has been shared by the Northern Water Conservancy District as it supplies 213,000 acre feet annually to the East Slope from water that flows through Grand Lake, as Grand County attempts to establish a water-clarity standard for the degrading lake.

Meanwhile, Colorado’s largest transmountain water diversion project, The Colorado-Big Thompson Project, has been blamed for being the culprit behind Grand Lake’s and Shadow Mountain Reservoir’s declining clarity as it pumps nutrient-rich waters opposite natural flows. Grand Lake, the former headwaters of the Colorado River and the only natural lake in the system, is the last link to a series of reservoirs and canals through which water travels before being transported under the Continental Divide to agricultural, municipal and industrial users.

The town of Grand Lake’s present storm-water drainage system comprises a 42-inch pipe that directs snowmelt and rain into the lake.

Typical storm water constituents, such as sediment, phosphorous from sources such as detergents and fertilizers, sodium chloride from roads, magnesium from the sediment itself and from cars, and oil and grease from automobiles and machines for recreation, can collect in the drainage.

Dubbed as Colorado’s snowmobile capital, the town sees a wealth of downtown snowmobile traffic each winter, providing their share of pollutants.

“Snowmobiles spew a lot of oil,” said Geoff Elliott, principal earth scientist of Grand Environmental Services in Grand Lake.

Thus, the town is looking into a storm water “cleaning” mechanism and has enlisted Elliot along with Kevin Vecchiarelli of JVA Consulting Engineers, Winter Park, to provide input.

Although concise data has not yet been collected about the types of pollutants entering into the lake from town storm drainage, preliminary research suggests that further filtration is needed.

In a preliminary proposal to the town Monday, Vecchiarelli and Elliot suggested a vortex cleaning system, or “Aqua Swirl Concentrator,” that ensures solids do not get through with an added filter to capture dissolved metals.

For further “polishing,” Elliot suggests implementing a treatment wetland along the shore for natural sediment filtration.

“I think the town should be commended for taking a proactive step,” Elliot said. “There’s a lot of discussion and studies going on around the Three Lakes system, a lot of politics and legal work going on … But the town has found a way to do something right now, and that’s good.”

A ballpark cost of $260,000 on the high end was quoted for these improvements.

“Our responsibility is to fix it,” Hale said. “It’s not a question of whether to fund it, it’s how we fund it.”

Hale suggested the town set aside the full amount in the 2008 budget to show that it is serious about its storm water treatment, as well as contract with Elliot and Vecchiarelli to continue with research and planning.

Meanwhile, the town would pursue state grants for the project, expected to cover 60 percent of the costs.

That leaves an estimated $110,000 the town could possibly spend on storm water improvements in the year 2009.

Because the “big push” toward beetle-kill tree projects is being accomplished in the 2008 budget cycle, Hale said, next year those funds should be freed to address lake water quality.

Trustees seem to agree on the importance of this, especially when the increased amount of cut trees can increase the volume of storm water drainage.

“Realistically speaking,” said Mayor Judy Burke, “at what point do we say, ‘OK the tree battle is lost, how do we save the lake?’ “

To the town, that means cleaner storm water.

“It’s something that has to be done because it’s long overdue,” said Trustee Glenn Harrington.

“It’s important that we show that we’re doing our part,” said Trustee Tom Weydert.

” To reach Tonya Bina call 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail tbina@grandcountynews.com.


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