Three Lakes Watershed Association

September 2020 Newsletter

September 2020 Newsletter

In July of 2008 the Rocky Mountain News (remember them?) reported that “Colorado has stepped forward to save one of its most important natural wonders, Grand Lake, establishing for the first time a standard to restore the renowned clarity that has drawn thousands to its shores for more than a century. After a year of public hearings and meetings, the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDHE) agreed that Grand Lake clarity should be reestablished and set a 4-meter interim clarity standard.” The goal for a permanent standard was to be finalized in 2014. However, the standard was later updated in January of 2016 to 3.8 meters of clarity with a minimum of 2.5 meters. This standard was agreed to by the Bureau of Reclamation, Northern Water, Grand County, NWCCOG, and Colorado River District and a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by all parties on 1/26/2016 (MOU #16-LM-60-2578). You can also find the complete MOU at

Over the past several years, the high snow pack and long spring runoffs made it possible for the operators of the Big Thompson Project to time most water delivery to the east slope in late June and early July, which then allowed an increased flow through Shadow Mountain Reservoir (SMR) during the most critical hot summer months helping to stop major algae blooms. Sadly, this year’s smaller snowpack and short spring runoff made it difficult to manage the flow resulting in lower and lower clarity levels violating the agreed to minimum clarity of 2.5 meters. There is another critical meeting with the CDHE in January of 2021 and our voices must be heard and that means we need more members. If you aren’t already a member, please sign up by going to our website and help us reestablish Grand Lake clarity. You can also help by telling a friend or family member to join.

President’s Message

Hello TLWSA Members,

I hope this message finds everyone safe and healthy as I know the pandemic and the current fires are impacting everyone’s lives to some extent. Please know that your TLWSA Board of Directors are working hard to network with local, county, state and federal officials to help protect and enhance the quality of life in the Three Lakes Area. We have key board members plugged in to a variety of governmental committees that make decisions on many important aspects that impact our quality of life. We are also very involved in improving water quality and clarity of Shadow Mountain Reservoir and Grand Lake and we are always trying to understand the key issues that impact and or can improve the situation. TLWSA is always looking to grow our organization because the more voices we have the better, so please feel free to reach out to anyone you think can make strong contributions- administratively, technically, or financially. We pride ourselves with being a non-profit with no overhead costs, so be sure to renew your memberships, as 100% of dues and contributions go to funding local initiatives. The TLWSA has been active and involved in the Three Lakes Area for over 40 years and will continue our mission with enthusiasm and determination. Thank you for being a TLWSA member!

Mike Cassio
President, TLWSA

80-year Grand Lake Water History

Grand Lake is Colorado’s largest natural lake with a long and rich history. It is the headwaters of the mighty Colorado River, formerly known as the Grand River. It is nearly surrounded by one of our oldest National Parks (Rocky Mountain National Park) and its two inlet streams are pristine water from the Park. The Colorado Big Thompson Project (CBT) was authorized via Senate Document 80 in 1937 and was one of the first major trans basin diversions using some of the oldest water rights in North America, currently providing water to roughly 1 million people. It was a brilliant engineering project for its time. However, the CBT has had significant unintended consequences on Grand Lake’s water quality and clarity. The CBT went operational with water flowing from Grand Lake through the Adams Tunnel to Estes Park in 1953. The first “Algae Problem” in SMR was documented in a letter on record dated January 28, 1954 from Robert L. Coon, a Grand Lake property owner, to US Senator Eugene D. Millikin. In February 1954, representatives from Bureau of Reclamation, Colorado Public Health, Colorado Game and Fish, Northern Water, the cities of Loveland, Berthoud, Boulder, Ft. Collins, Greeley, Longmont, Grand Lake, US National Parks, and more met to determine plans to correct the “Algae Problem”. On March 22, 1954 the Assistant Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, H.F. McPhail, wrote Robert Coon and stated “We assure you that we are very much concerned with this problem, and there is no intention on the part of the Bureau of Reclamation to shirk its duties or responsibilities”. Two years later, in 1956, a Committee was formed on Grand Lake Water Problems and again reached out to principal parties regarding “turbidity” in Grand Lake from CBT Operations. Turbidity is the quality of being cloudy, opaque, or thick with suspended matter and the measurement of turbidity is a key test of water quality.

Since the CBT went operational, all of the water (Northern) and power (Western Area Power Administration) Interests have received their water and power from the CBT. The Power Interests (through 35 miles of tunnels, 95 miles of canals and 6 hydroelectric power plants using 700 miles of transmission lines) have gotten their power when the water is moving. In the last 10 years, we have seen much better cooperation and effort from the mentioned Interests to improve Grand Lake and SMR. Key parties meet on a regular basis to determine actions to improve Shadow Mountain Reservoir (SMR) and Grand Lake. Key science, data, modeling, and research have been dedicated to improvement of turbidity. Opportunities for improvement to the CBT are many and range from small operational changes to large redesign projects. Some of the suggestions include reengineering the CBT system, modification of water operations, aquatic weed control, sediment control, oxygenation, and more.

Grand Lake deserves respect. Grand Lake deserves to be preserved. 
Grand Lake deserves to be restored.

Other Activities:

  • We continue to fund data collection on Grand Lake water quality at the station located in the channel between Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Reservoir, the maintenance of the fire boat, and the slip rental for the Northern water monitoring boat.
  • We recently partnered with the Upper Colorado Watershed Group to purchase a high tech drone to document and use to monitor and track water quality in Grand Lake and algae blooms in SMR and to document any excessive sediment loading from the North Fork of the Colorado.

Additional websites you may find interesting:

Mussel info at

Wildland Fire info at

Wildfire & Evacuation info at

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