Grizzly Reservoir GM: ‘I blew it’ |

Grizzly Reservoir GM: ‘I blew it’

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times

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.

Twin Lakes officials drained Grizzly Reservoir on Aug. 8 after discovering the outlet gate was jammed by a tree. Most of the water in the lake was sent east toward Denver through tunnels, but the last 10 to 20 acre-feet at the bottom of the reservoir was sent west down Lincoln Creek and into the Roaring Fork River, according to a report that analyzed samples taken from the discharge.

The analysis of those samples — which were taken by city of Aspen employees three days after the initial drainage — showed levels of aluminum and iron that acutely exceeded state standards for acquatic life. Levels of copper and manganese in the discharge also probably exceeded state standards, according to the report. No fish kills were reported as a result of the discharge.

Those metals were present in the reservoir because it is located downstream from both Ruby Mine and from highly mineralized geology in the mountainside above the mine.

Government officials in Aspen and Pitkin County didn’t know about the discharge until residents began inquiring about the brown color of the Roaring Fork River.

Those officials, including Long and Kurt Dahl, Pitkin County environmental health director, as well as Roaring Fork Conservancy Director Rick Lofaro, all said they should have been notified of the discharge. Members of the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners criticized the discharge.

Andre Wille, chairman of the Healthy Rivers and Streams Board and an Aspen High School teacher who’s been taking samples of the Roaring Fork River for more than two decades, called it “the single biggest water-quality disaster we’ve ever seen in the Roaring Fork River.”

Campbell said the criticism stung at first.

“From an operational perspective, … it was a potential dam safety issue and we had to do something,” he said. “My gut reaction (to the criticism) was, ‘Ouch.’”

However, after he thought about it, Campbell said he realized that if he was lucky enough to live on the beautiful and relatively pristine Roaring Fork River, he “would have been a little bit bent,” too.

“It’s natural to tend to take these things personally, just as folks want to take me dirtying up their river personally,” he said. “So it was not an, ‘Ouch, they’re picking on me.’ It was more of an, ‘Ouch, I blew it.’

He said the timing of the incident couldn’t have been worse, as it came on the heels of the Animas River discharge that polluted that river with discharge from a gold mine.

He said people who live downriver had a right to know what was happening and that his thinking “was too narrow.”

“We had an impact,” Campbell said. “This was a big topic in communities downstream. There are now protocols in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

He said workers will begin installing silt fencing, straw bales and straw wattles across Lincoln Creek below the dam this weekend to trap sediment. Then, on Monday and Tuesday, workers will pump out the water still covering the submerged gate at the bottom of the dam in order to access and fix it, Campbell said.

After the gate is fixed and tested, they will close it and clean out the silt from the pool on the other side of the dam so it doesn’t get stirred up again and flow down Lincoln Creek and the Roaring Fork, he said.

Still, the Roaring Fork River could become discolored as a result of the work at the reservoir, according to a statement from Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. Long said she will conduct tests on that discharge when and if it occurs.

Campbell said he hopes the work will be completed by Oct. 12, though that date could change.