Colorado lawmakers approve resolution backing efforts to restore Grand Lake’s clarity

Colorado lawmakers OK’d a measure this week backing efforts to restore Grand Lake, the state’s deepest natural lake once known for its clear waters.

Advocates hope the resolution will help fuel statewide support for the complicated work involved in restoring the lake and give them leverage with the federal government to secure funding for a new fix.

The resolution is largely symbolic and doesn’t come with any money, but it adds to the growing coalition of water interests on the Western Slope and Front Range backing the effort.

After more than a year of work, Mike Cassio, president of the Three Lakes Watershed Association, said he is hopeful the resolution will create a new path forward after years of bureaucratic stalemate. The association advocates on behalf of Grand Lake, Shadow Mountain and Lake Granby.

“It’s been a long process, but this resolution puts the state legislators in support of what we are trying to do and we will be able to take that to our congressional representatives,” Cassio said.

The measure was carried by Sen. Dylan Roberts, a Democrat from Frisco, and House Speaker Julie McCluskie, a Democrat from Dillon.

“I’m really encouraged with all the work that has been done in the past few months and I think it will hopefully lead to more progress,” Roberts said.

Owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and operated by Northern Water, what’s known as the Colorado-Big Thompson Project gathers water from streams and rivers in Rocky Mountain National Park and Grand County, and stores it in Lake Granby and Shadow Mountain Reservoir. From there it is eventually moved into Grand Lake and delivered via the Adams Tunnel under the Continental Divide to Carter Lake and Horsetooth Reservoir, just west of Berthoud and Fort Collins, respectively.

On the Front Range, the water serves more than 1 million people and thousands of acres of irrigated farmlands. But during the pumping process on the Western Slope, algae and sediment are carried into Grand Lake, clouding its formerly clear waters and causing algae blooms and weed growth, and harming recreation.

Advocates have long been frustrated at the failure to find a permanent fix to the lake’s clarity issues, whether it’s through a major redesign of the giant federal system or operational changes.

The Bureau of Reclamation, Northern Water, Grand County and other agencies and local groups have been working since 2008 to find a way to keep the lake clearer, and Northern Water and others have experimented with different pumping patterns and other techniques to reduce disturbances to the lake’s waters.

Now an even broader coalition has come together, Cassio said, led by Grand County commissioners and Northern Water’s board of directors.

“Northern Water is fully committed to the continued and collaborative exploration of options to improve clarity in Grand Lake and water quality in the three lakes,” said Esther Vincent, Northern Water’s director of environmental services.

Last year, a technical working group reconvened, and is now studying new fixes that may be possible, including taking steps to reduce algae growth and introduce aeration in Shadow Mountain, a shallow artificial reservoir whose warm temperatures, weeds and sediment loads do the most damage to Grand Lake, Cassio said.

Though much more work lies ahead, the work at the legislature is critical, he said.

“This resolution is one piece of the puzzle,” Cassio said. “We’re at the finish line and everybody is coming together. It’s a wonderful thing.”

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