Board: Tell us of reservoir draining |

Board: Tell us of reservoir draining

Jason Auslander
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.

They sent most of the water east through tunnels toward Denver, but the last 10 to 20 acre-feet at the bottom of the reservoir were funneled down Lincoln Creek and into the Roaring Fork River, according to the report.

“Why didn’t they talk to people downstream?” said board member Lisa Tasker.

The water samples — taken three days after the initial discharge — showed levels of aluminum and iron that acutely exceeded state standards for aquatic life. Levels of copper and manganese also likely exceeded state standards, the report found.

The reservoir contains those metals because it is located both downstream from the Ruby Mine and because of the natural, highly mineralized geology in the mountainside above the mine.

Kurt Dahl, Pitkin County environmental health manager, told Healthy Rivers board members Thursday that the director of the Roaring Fork Conservancy is drafting a letter to Grizzly Reservoir officials. That letter likely will ask for a written agreement mandating that at least one entity downstream — probably the Roaring Fork Conservancy — be notified if such a drainage occurs again, he said.

“I’m shocked there’s nothing in place on how to deal with an emergency discharge,” Dahl said.

He said government officials from Pitkin County and the city of Aspen want to establish communication with Grizzly officials in an effort to avoid a similar situation.

Rick Lofaro, director of the Roaring Fork Conservancy, has said that the drainage is not considered a violation and that state water-quality officials are unlikely to become involved in the situation.

Wille said the effect of the discharge on the river is not known, and pointed out that no one saw any evidence of fish kills as a result of the discharge. Still, he said the Roaring Fork River hasn’t seen pollution similar to the Grizzly discharge in the 25 years he’s been taking monthly samples from it.

“They take our water then they flush the waste down our river,” Wille said. “There are a lot of eyes watching and they need to know that.”