Three Lakes Watershed Association

2023 Annual Newsletter


This Annual Newsletter is an overview and update of the Three Lakes Watershed Association (TLWA) year in review.  TLWA will not have an annual meeting in 2023 due to scheduling conflicts and this newsletter will replace that meeting.  We plan to have annual meetings every other year and will schedule one for August 2024. 

The mission of TLWA is “Protecting and Enhancing the Quality of Life in the Three Lakes Area”. Over the past 40 years TLWA has been established as the oldest and largest 501(c)(3) based in Grand Lake, has become a key representative at most water meetings related to Grand Lake with the Bureau of Reclamation, Northern Water, Grand County, Colorado River District and the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments (NWCCOG), and has become a designated key advisor on water issues for the Town of Grand Lake.  TLWA covers Grand Lake, Shadow Mountain Reservoir (SMR), and Lake Granby (referred to as the “Three Lakes”), the Colorado River (between Grand Lake and Granby) and all the tributaries feeding the Three Lakes.

Membership Drive

The Board of Directors would like to thank all of our members for their continued support and generous donations.  Your membership and donations are the key to our success as 99% of all membership fees and donations go to achieving the stated mission.  2023 was one of the highest revenue years yet in membership fees, individual, long-time, and major donors, and awarded grants.  The organization has collected a total of $113,180.00 in revenue to date in 2023.

Continuing to improve the overall environment of the Upper Colorado River Watershed has been our primary objective for over 40 years.  Clean air and water are essential for those who live in the area, along with those on the Front Range of Colorado who get 80% of their drinking water through the Three Lakes system of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.  The Adams Tunnel on the East end of Grand Lake delivers water to over 1.1 million people and irrigates 610,000 acres of farmland on the front range north and northeast of Denver.  If you get your water from Northern Water, it likely flows through Grand Lake. 

We need to increase membership to strengthen our voice, and therefore, respectfully ask all members to reach out to friends and neighbors that may be interested in joining TLWA to help restore and protect the Three Lakes area.  This link can be sent via text or email to anyone who values Grand Lake, SMR, Lake Granby, Willow Creek Reservoir, and all the rivers, streams and creeks entering the Three Lakes who want to help improve and preserve it for future generations.  Being a resident or homeowner of Grand Lake or Grand County is certainly not a requirement for membership.  In fact, awareness and membership along the Front Range is extremely valuable in furthering our reach and achieving these goals.  Over 80% of the homeowners between Grand Lake and Granby are second homeowners which means a high percentage probably also live along the front range (

Grand Lake Adaptive Management

Grand Lake Adaptive Management (GLAM) is a process for developing an operational plan for meeting the water clarity goals on Grand Lake.  The Glam process is implemented during July through September.  The process was accepted by the State of Colorado Water Quality Control Commission in January 2016.  The process is managed by the Bureau of Reclamation and supported by Northern Water, Grand County, NWCCOG, and the Colorado River Conservation District (referred to as the Adaptive Management Committee (AMC)).   Annually, the Bureau of Reclamation develops the GLAM Operational Plan and has overall management of the AMC.  The AMC meets weekly from July through Labor Day and then prepares an annual GLAM report that summarizes what was learned about the west slope Colorado-Big Thompson (CBT) Project’s operational approaches for the specific year and how well it met the Clarity Goals in Grand Lake.  Director, Jeff Metzger is the designated TLWA representative on all GLAM related matters and attends all meetings.

2023 Grand Lake Adaptive Management Overview

The 2023 GLAM Update is pretty straightforward. The Bureau of Reclamation sent out their GLAM Operational Plan and based on many operational constraints from a heavy snowpack (runoff), higher than average rainfall, and cooler temperatures in 2023, the water has been mainly flowing east to west (Grand Lake to SMR) which has limited regular pumping from Lake Granby to SMR.  Because pumping has been limited, and flow is moving east to west, Grand Lake has experienced some of the best clarity and water quality in years (because SMR is not flowing through Grand Lake).   The AMC is constantly monitoring water temperature and dissolved oxygen in SMR and will increase flow through SMR into Grand Lake as water levels on the east slope allow.  The concern (as is every year) is to not allow SMR water temperatures to rise too quickly, causing large algae blooms.  Currently, the weed issues are increasing in SMR and now that the full pumping has started from Lake Granby to SMR the water quality and clarity will decrease in Grand Lake because the flow has changed, moving west to east, pushing SMR water into Grand Lake.  Let’s all thank Mother Nature for a prosperous snow fall, rain, and lower temperatures this year for delaying the need to pump sooner.

As of 1 August, the Adams Tunnel from Grand Lake to Estes is now fully open and flowing, moving water through SMR and causing faster turnover/lower residence time in SMR.  However, this hurts Grand Lake’s clarity due to increased suspended solids (weeds, algae, and sediment) flowing into Grand Lake.  The aquatic weeds in SMR have been terrible in certain spots around the islands and on the north and northeast shores.  Additionally, Grand Lake, SMR, Lake Granby, and Willow Creek Reservoir are all still being greatly affected by the sediment (both organic and non-organic) from post fire runoff.  One major storm can significantly impact a single or multiple tributaries or inputs into the Three Lakes with mudslides, debris, and flooding.  This is a reason the yellow booms are present in front of the Adams Tunnel intake. 




TLWA is Awarded $350,000 from the Grand Foundation Windy Gap Environmental Fund

In 2023, TLWA was awarded two (2) grants totaling $350,000 from the Grand Foundation Windy Gap Environmental Fund.  The grants are awarded to qualified non-profit (501(c)(3) organizations to improve aquatic and riparian habitat and water quality in the watershed upstream from the Windy Gap Reservoir and below to the confluence with Williams Fork, with the goal of addressing impacts caused by the Windy Gap Project.  TLWA was awarded $250,000 for a septic-to-sewer conversion project with the Three Lakes Water and Sanitation District (TLWSD) and $100,000 to develop a Stormwater Management Plan (SWMP) for the Town of Grand Lake for the North and Northwest section of town.

TLWSD Septic-to-Sewer Grant - TLWA formed a partnership with the TLWSD to develop a phased approach to completing the buildout of the Three Lakes (Grand Lake, SMR, and Lake Granby) sewer collection network. The first phase is to determine the degree of potential and probable septic failures across the district. Combined with a septic inventory age assessment (now underway) and mapping known well contaminations, the team will identify and prioritize new collection system buildout candidates and regions.   The 2023 grant will fund an Aerial Infrared Thermographic Survey and then provide the initial engineering.  The goal is to fix and clean up any potential leaching of septic systems into the Upper Colorado River Watershed.

Develop Town of Grand Lake SWMP – TLWA formed a partnership with the Town of Grand Lake to develop a stormwater management plan for all stormwater discharges occurring on the north and northwest side of Grand Lake, which flows into SMR.  The town of Grand Lake already has a very good management plan and system that manages stormwater that flows through the heart of the town and into Grand Lake.  This grant is to develop a stormwater management plan that support all runoff into Columbine Creek and adjacent neighborhoods to the east and north, off of Woodpecker Hill.  The goal is to prevent excess sediment from flowing into SMR and cleaning up any potential contaminants that are transported via stormwater.

TLWA Designated Key Support Organization on Water by Town of Grand Lake

On January 24, 2023, TLWA received unanimous approval by the Grand Lake Board of Trustees

to be the voice and ears of the Town of Grand Lake on all water clarity and quality in Grand Lake and its relationship to the C-BT. TLWA Director Kirsten Heckendorf presented to the board the concept and TLWA’s desire to be designated a representative of the town. Kirsten explained that the status allows TLWA to participate in government meetings it otherwise cannot.  Grand Lake Mayor Steve Kudron stated that “the town is very fortunate to have TLWA working in partnership with the Town on all water related issues”. 

TLWA Board of Directors

The TLWA Board of Directors is made up of eight individuals volunteering time.  The following are the 2023 TLWA Board of Directors:

  • Michael Cassio, President, Director
  • Kirsten Heckendorf, Secretary, Director
  • Steve Meyer, Treasurer, Director
  • Canton “Scally” O’Donnell, Director
  • Cal Fullenwider, Director
  • John Brooks, Director
  • Jeff Metzger, Director
  • Howdy Fry, Director

At the last Board meeting both Cal Fullenwider and Howdy Fry retired from the TLWA Board of Directors.  Mr. Fullenwider has been a Director and active member of TLWA and predecessor organizations since the early 1980’s.  His leadership and executive management will be missed.  Thank you, Cal for everything you have done for the organization and the Three Lakes.  Mr. Fry has been an active member of TLWA for the past 14 years.  He has led the membership side of the organization and spent countless hours recruiting new members and making sure current members continue on in the organization.  Thank you, Howdy, for your dedication and hard work.  TLWA has replaced both individuals that retired with one new and exciting Board member.  Please welcome Dr. Jason Sutherland as our new TLWA Board member. 

Dr. Sutherland has been part of the Grand Lake community for over 60 years.  He lives on the South shore of Grand Lake and works as a Board Certified Anatomic and Clinical Pathologist at Summit Pathology.  Dr. Sutherland has expertise in colorectal, pulmonary and bone marrow pathology.  He has been very involved in the Grand Lake Yacht Club his whole life and is an avid sailor, water skier, and outdoor enthusiast and will fit perfectly into the TLWA Board of Directors.   

Please welcome Dr. Sutherland.   We are excited and lucky to have him on the Board.

Note: Elwin Crabtree retired at the end of 2022 as Secretary and a Director of TLWA, where he served for over 40 years.  Mr. Crabtree has been a valuable part of Grand County water for over 50 years.  He was a Grand County Commissioner in the 1970’s and led the founding and development of the Three Lakes Water and Sanitation District and Three Lakes Watershed Association. Thank you, Elwin, for all of your hard work and dedication!

2023 TLWA Financial Review (through July)

2023 Revenue (through July)

  • Membership Dues/ Donations = $23,893.59
  • Grants = $69,000 + $20,286.41 (1st Invoices - Septic-to-Sewer and SWMP) = $89,286.41
  • Total Revenue = $113,180.00

2023 Expenses (through July)

  • USGS Algae Toxin Monitoring = $4,400
  • Troublesome Fest = $1,000
  • Boat Dock (sample and monitoring Boat) = $2,200
  • GCWIN and GL Chamber Memberships = $552
  • Three Lakes Water and Sanitation District (1st Invoice) = $60,000
  • Town of Grand Lake (1st Invoice) = $17,000
  • Insurance = $966
  • Legal = $24,591.25
  • Total Expenses = $110,709.25

2023 Year in Review

TLWA added James Eklund ( to our team for legal support and to support our mission to help positively impact the improvement of water quality and clarity in the Three Lakes and especially Grand Lake.  James is a great asset and is very connected at the State and Federal level and will help communicate with every important water organization and politician in the state (CWQQC, Gov Polis, Sen Hickenlooper, Rep Neguse, Rep McCluskie, Sen Roberts, ect.).  Mr. Eklund will raise the status of TLWA to a new level of respect. 

TLWA was awarded two grants in May 2023 under the Grand Foundation Windy Gap Environmental Fund to support the Three Lakes Water and Sanitation District ($250,000) and the Town of Grand Lake ($100,000).  Under these grants, we will oversee some large projects and collect over $50,000 in general and administrative fees to further support our objectives and mission.   The projects include (See explanation above):

    • Three Lakes Sanitation District Septic-to-Sewer Conversion Project
    • Town of Grand Lake – Stormwater Management Plan


TLWA was highlighted in two newspaper articles last fall.  We are always looking for opportunities to get our message out to the general public:


We have also been interviewed for an article coming out under the Aspen Journalism organization and was recently contacted to be interviewed by a photojournalist from 9News on 15 August who is working on a documentary on the Colorado River.  

We have been communicating with Sen Michael Bennet, Sen Dylan Roberts and Speaker of the House McClusky about funding a major study of the Impact of the C-BT on the Upper Colorado River Watershed and how to modernize the system.  We have also asked our State Legislature to purchase a weed harvester for SMR and for funds to hire a contractor to operate it and dispose of the weeds it generates and install aerators to help move and circulate the water.  We have been pushing for short term solutions for cleaning up SMR which would improve Grand Lake. 

TLWA is a very influential organization in Grand Lake and I am asking all members to do as much as you can to help us achieve our goal of major improvements on the Three Lakes water quality and clarity.  Our organization and many before, have been fighting for this since 1956.  Our 2024 goal is to improve SMR by raising funds and lobbying our legislatures to purchase a weed harvester for SMR and for the funds to hire a contractor to operate it if the U.S. Forest Service will not and install aerators to prevent algae blooms.  It is the firm belief that best option for improving Grand Lake water quality and clarity is to improve SMR.  SMR flows into Grand Lake 75% of the year (west to east).  It has been proven and documented that when the water flows east to west (Grand Lake to SMR), Grand Lake stays much cleaner and clearer.  However, when SMR is flowing into Grand Lake we are lucky to see 3.8M of clarity and consistently see large mats of weeds and algae slicks flowing through Grand Lake.   Grand Lake is fed by two pristine tributaries (east and North Inlet) and is the largest and deepest natural lake in Colorado and should be crystal clear and deserves to be protected.

Please get the word out about TLWA and the great work it does supporting the Grand County community as well as in protecting and preserving our natural environment.  We strive to continuously improve our air and water and will represent our membership to the best of our ability.  TLWA spends 99% of the funds collected from membership dues, donations and grants “Protecting and Enhancing the Quality of Life in the Three Lakes Area”.


Top left photo was taken when Grand Lake had been flowing east to west (natural flow) and clarity was high, middle photo taken after the Farr Pumps in Lake Granby were turned on and Shadow Mountain Reservoir begun flowing into Grand Lake (flow west to east, unnatural flow) and large amounts of sediment, algae, and weeds were entering Grand Lake (photos taken by Steve Paul).  Top right aerial photo of Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Reservoir looking east.

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