When problems overwhelm us, darkness often prevents a clear view of solutions.  Solutions, even at the fantasy level, bring light and excitement to fuel the patience and energy needed to resolve even the most intractable of issues.

The largest problem with the plumbing system which is strangling Grand County’s namesake river (the Colorado River originally was the Grand) is Shadow Mountain Reservoir.  This shallow waterbody is lovely to look at, but water weeds and toxic algae blooms are being fueled by global warming and nutrient loads delivered by over 300 miles of impaired county streams.

Already this summer, lakeshore owners are struggling to get their boats to weed clogged docks.

If this troubled reservoir were to disappear, how would we recompense lakeshore owners who love living on a beautiful mountain lake?  Indulge me as we take a flight of fancy.

First, Shadow Mountain Reservoir filled a mountain meadow where current shoreline resident Tracee Lorenz’s family had a dairy farm. She wonders if she will get her farm back if the reservoir is filled in.  Much of the recompense to property owners of the reservoir land was given as value of shoreline properties on the new lake.  Lakeshore owners then would need equal value to this amenity if the lake were filled in. Instead of merely filling it in, imagine “constructing” a large complex of wetlands, forests and meandering, shaded canals.  The canal system – full of water cooled by forests and wetlands – could allow boaters to access their lakefront properties, lots increased in size by adding ownership of parts of the meadows and wetlands gracing their front yards. Moving more boats to a crowded Grand Lake could be offset by joining the canal system to Granby Reservoir. A lock system would raise and lower boats to the larger waterbody.  This would be a new connection, one more enhancement replacing lake front property value.  Grand Lake owners would share in this new connection. Son Skyler suggests this new water complex might become Grand County’s natural “Venice” with a boat accessed wetland park and possibly even a few restaurants.  The west half of Shadow Mountain Wetlands could be a mix of private and public canals, the east half could be given over in recompense to the federal government by crafting enhanced wildlife and fish habitats. 

When I described this idea to my Upper Colorado River Watershed board, board member Ken Fucik said the emphasis must be on solving the primary problem; namely the fact our watershed is in peril.  The mainstream feeding Shadow Mountain Reservoir, the North Fork of the Colorado has already deposited a large delta made up of sediment – much of which has come from breaches in the Grand Ditch above the Kawuneeche Valley in the Park. Three hundred miles of county streams are already compromised, much of these troubled waters flow into Shadow Mountain.

Ken is exactly right; we first need to sweep the house before we address its fundamental flaws. But a vision of how a fundamentally flawed design might ultimately be fixed can help fuel our work to fix our Watershed.

Most importantly, as I have often said, this work must be funded by our wonderful neighbors on the other side of the mountains who benefit from Grand County’s liquid resource.  

One of Andy’s many hats is worn as the President of the Upper Colorado River Watershed Group. Find updates on the challenges our streams face at ucrwg.org.