Grizzly Reservoir update

Grizzly Reservoir via Aspen Journalism
Grizzly Reservoir via Aspen Journalism

From The Aspen Daily News (Chad Abraham):

The effort to repair the gate at Grizzly Reservoir that forced the lake to be drained, sending water laden with heavy metals into the Roaring Fork River in August, began Friday.

And there are now protocols in place so officials, residents and river users are not caught off guard, as they were when the river turned from its usual gin-clear shade to an ugly yellowish-brown on Aug. 11, if future reservoir work is expected to impact the Roaring Fork.

There could again be some discoloration in the Fork and Lincoln Creek from silt stirred up during the “dewatering” of the work site, according to a Roaring Fork Conservancy press release. The dewatering must occur so the gate can be fixed.

But crews with the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., the owner and operator of the Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System that has purview over Grizzly Reservoir, have set up a silt fence and straw bales and wattles (a formation involving stakes interlaced with slender tree branches) to trap sediment.

Grizzly Reservoir had to be drained because the nonfunctioning gate could have led to a much more serious incident in which the dam failed, said Scott Campbell, the reservoir company’s general manager, shortly after the drainage.

Tests of water and soil samples showed there were levels of iron and aluminum that exceeded state standards for aquatic life. But officials do not believe the material from the 19th-century Ruby Mine will have a long-term impact on the Roaring Fork ecosystem.

Still, the fact that the drainage and discoloration happened so soon after the Animas River pollution disaster alarmed many people, and Campbell has acknowledged that notification about the reservoir work should have been better.

More coverage from The Aspen Times (Jason Auslander):

Those who criticized Grizzly Reservoir officials for draining the lake in August and sending polluted water down the Roaring Fork River for days take note: You’ve been heard.

“I get it,” said Scott Campbell, general manager of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. “And I’m sorry I didn’t make those calls” in August warning downvalley communities of the impending drainage.

Now, as repair work is slated to begin on a broken reservoir gate — the reason for the drainage in the first place — officials from Twin Lakes and from downvalley governments and other organizations have established protocols designed to prevent similar surprises in the future.

The new protocols were laid out in a meeting Tuesday at Grizzly Reservoir. They call for government officials in Aspen and Pitkin County as well as those with the Roaring Fork Conservancy to be notified if any changes occur in the operation of Grizzly Reservoir that might affect the Roaring Fork Valley, said April Long, stormwater manager for the city of Aspen.

“They were apologetic and wanted to take the proper steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Long said.

Long said she’s satisfied that the new protocols will prevent another surprise discharge from occurring.

More coverage from Jason Auslander writing for The Aspen Times:

Grizzly Reservoir is a “toxic waste pond,” and if it is ever drained again, people and governments downstream need to know in advance.

That was the word Thursday from Healthy Rivers and Streams Board Chairman Andre Wille, though his fellow board members seemed to agree with the sentiment.

“This is the single biggest water-quality disaster we’ve ever seen in the Roaring Fork River,” Wille said during the board’s meeting Thursday evening. “I just don’t think it was thought through.”

Officials with the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which runs Grizzly Reservoir, decided to drain the lake around Aug. 8 in order to fix an outlet gate that was jammed by a tree, according to a report that analyzed water samples taken from the discharge.

Future of public lands fund in doubt after D.C. inaction — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel #electionsmatter

Black Canyon via the National Park Service
Black Canyon via the National Park Service

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Outdoors advocates are lamenting the failure of Congress to extend the life of a program that has helped fund public-land projects for half a century, including many in western Colorado.

But some members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, say the Land and Water Conservation Fund program is in need of reform.

Congress failed to reauthorize the program before it expired on Wednesday, despite hopes from some in Congress, including U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., that reauthorization be included in a stopgap funding bill that was passed before that same deadline.

Bennet and U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., also signed a bipartisan letter from dozens of senators calling for permanent reauthorization of the fund. The letter calls it “America’s most successful conservation and recreation program.”

The letter adds, “Investments in LWCF support public land conservation and ensure access to the outdoors for all Americans, in rural communities and cities alike.”

The program uses no taxpayer dollars, and instead is funded primarily by royalties paid to the government by companies doing off-shore oil and gas development.

According to Bennet’s office, the fund “supports the conservation of parks, open spaces, and wildlife habitat for the benefit of hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation.”

Regionally, some of the program’s beneficiaries have included the Colorado and Dinosaur national monuments, Mesa Verde and Black Canyon of the Gunnison national parks, and White River and Uncompahgre national forests.

Will Roush, conservation director for the Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop group, said that statewide the fund has paid for more than $250 million in conservation and recreation projects.

According to the Center for Western Priorities conservation group, more than half of members in the U.S. House of Representatives support the program. But it says U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, “is holding LWCF hostage,” having vowed to block the program unless reforms are made, but not introducing a bill or allowing consideration of the program’s renewal.

In a statement released Sept. 25, Bishop countered that it’s special interests who “seek to hijack LWCF to continue to expand the federal estate and divert even more monies away from localities.”

He said any reauthorization of the fund will prioritize funding for local communities as originally intended under the program.

Bishop has been an advocate of transferring federal lands to state control.

In a statement, Tipton said that the Land and Water Conservation Fund “is a valuable tool for conservation, but after 50 years, some reforms are needed to ensure it is still achieving its original mission and that the federal government is properly managing the lands it already has.

“Managing nearly 640 million acres in the United States, the federal government is by far the largest landowner in most Western states. Rather than increasing LWCF funding in order to obtain more federal property, land management agencies should focus on managing the lands they already have. LWCF reauthorization provides an opportunity for reforms that support addressing the growing maintenance backlogs for national parks, roads, trails and facilities.”