New water clarity proposal considered for Grand Lake | SkyHiNews.com

New water clarity proposal considered for Grand Lake

A couple relaxes on a bench along the shore of Grand Lake, Colorado's largest natural lake. Negotiations are under way to try to set a clarity standard for the lake.
Sky-Hi News file photo | Sky-Hi News

Debate continues to swirl around water clarity standards for Grand Lake, but recently stake holders on the Western Slope presented a new proposal in hopes of moving negotiations forward.

Western Slope stakeholders recently presented a revised clarity standard proposal to the Water Clarity Stakeholders group for consideration. The revised clarity standard proposal presented by the Western Slope stakeholders is for 3.8 meters, or 12.5 feet, with a 2.5 meter, or 8.2 feet, minimum clarity depth. This is a reduction from their previous proposal of a 4-meter standard.

Representatives from the Western slope stakeholders together with others from the east side of the continental Divide make up the Water Clarity Stakeholders Committee (WCSC). The WCSC is formed from the various entities affected by water clarity in Grand Lake and the operation of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project (C-BT), which pulls water from the Three Lakes region that is sent through the Alva B. Adams Tunnel out of Grand Lake to the Front Range.

The WCSC includes representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, Town of Grand Lake, Western Area Power Administration, Grand County, Northern Water, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, power consumers from the affected area, the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Three Lakes Watershed Association, Northwest COG, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Trout Unlimited, Middle Park Water Conservancy District, U.S. Geological Survey, the Grand County Water Information Network, and various other groups.

“Looking at history and what we have been able to achieve in the past; we’ve been able to achieve 4 meters some years at certain times of the year. But oftentimes the clarity gets worse than that.”Brian WernerNorthern Water spokesman

Representatives from the WCSC hope to negotiate a single water clarity proposal amongst themselves that can be presented to the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, the entity that will give final approval of any new water clarity standard. The Commission is part of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The WCSC is working toward a deadline; their proposal is due in November.

West Slope compromise

Grand County Manager Lurline Underbrink-Curran has helped shepherd the process for the county.

“The West Slope group came up with compromises we felt we could live with and presented them to the larger group,” she said.

Underbrink-Curran explained that if the various groups cannot come to agreement on a proposal then multiple proposals will likely be submitted to the Water Quality Commission.

“Sometimes the various factors to consider are at odds,” she said. “If the Stakeholders group can’t come to a coordinated proposal then the West Slope group would make a proposal and the East Slope group would likely make their own proposal.”

The debate has been ongoing for several years now and started in earnest in 2008 when a committee was formed to study possible methods for improving water clarity in Grand Lake. According to Canton O’Donnell, president of the Three Lakes Watershed Association, that committee, which later became the Water Clarity Stakeholders Committee, was formed from the sustained lobbying efforts of the Three Lakes Watershed Association to improve the water clarity standard.

“All these years we have proposed a 4-meter standard,” said Canton. “Northern Water says that is not possible.”

Unattainable

The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, better known as Northern Water, operates the C-BT though the facilities are officially owned by the federal Bureau of Reclamation.

“We don’t think that is an attainable standard,” said Brian Werner, Public Information Officer for Northern Water. “Looking at history and what we have been able to achieve in the past; we’ve been able to achieve 4 meters some years at certain times of the year. But oftentimes the clarity gets worse than that.”

Werner also expressed concerns over how such a standard would be enforced and how penalties for failing to meet any new standard would be applied.

“I think we are getting closer,” Werner said. “I think we will probably in the end propose some tweaking on what they have proposed.”

“It (a 4-meter standard) is not attainable without making major changes and affecting our water delivery,” said Jeff Drager, deputy manager of engineering at Northern Water.

Northern Water has not, at this time, presented its own preferred standard for clarity depth.

“We appreciate their desire to improve clarity,” said Werner. “But we can’t do that at the expense of our water rights and our water delivery. We are willing to tweak things to meet that clarity standard but we have our mission.”


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