Swimming in Dillon Reservoir a weighty decision
Ryan Summerlin May 16, 2012
A decision has yet to be made as to whether Denver Water will allow swimming in Dillon Reservoir this summer.
It’s been a topic of conversation for the Dillon Reservoir Recreation Area Committee since the municipal water agency announced in a Feb. 22 letter that there are no longer water-quality concerns associated with human contact in the water supply. They’re considering swimming, wading and windsurfing as permitted activities, and could pass a resolution as soon as July 4.
In the letter, Denver Water officials said they’d be open to changes in the management approach at Dillon Reservoir “in light of treatment plant improvements.” However, it advised any changes would have significant impacts on Summit County agencies, and recommended full evaluation before changes are made.
“In the 1980s, the Colorado Department of Health and Environment issued a guidance that discouraged body contact in water supply reservoirs,” Denver Water spokeswoman Stacy Chesney said. “Since then, that state guidance has been repealed, and water treatment processes have improved.”
There’s still the question of whether and to what degree Dillon Reservoir should be open to swimming, Chesney said.
“Like any recreational activity, the possibility of swimming, especially at altitude in very cold water, should be carefully evaluated with regard to public safety and resource requirements and, if allowed, should be managed responsibly.”
The water agency has said any changes in water contact activity are a decision to be made by the committee, comprised of Dillon and Frisco municipal representatives Bob Evans and Bonnie Moinet as well as Summit County Open Space and Trails director Brian Lorch, Howard Scott from the U.S. Forest Service and Neil Sperandeo of Denver Water. The Summit County Sheriff’s Office is represented by Cale Osborn, and a handful of other representatives sit into meetings.
SCUBA diving and snorkeling were considered, but may be taken off the list because of potential security concerns with Denver Water infrastructure as well as safety concerns with underwater cables.
The committee discussed the possibility of allowing water skiing, wakeboarding, tubing and jet-skiing, but all were taken off the table due to bureaucracy that requires a master plan amendment for new facilities or new uses that could have environmental impacts or could alter the character of the reservoir. None of the committee representatives’ agencies have volunteered to sponsor the master plan amendment process.
According to notes from previous meetings, committee members agree water contact activity is permissible and desirable, so long as the dam, glory hole, Robert’s Tunnel, defined areas at the marinas and the Frisco channel remain off-limits.
The decision would include allowing special events, like triathlons, to take place in the reservoir. Frisco officials wanted to kick off a triathlon event this summer, but turned it into a duathlon (bike and run) due to the uncertainty of the decision.
Committee members want to determine the extent to which activities would tax county and municipal resources, such as patrolling for safety and compliance with rules. There’s also the question of how such activities would interface with other water sports like sailing and recreational boating and any other associated liability. A wet or dry suit requirement to protect against the cold water may be put into place, but Moinet said it’s not likely at this point.
The Sheriff’s Office is ready to act as soon as this summer, anticipating increased costs of patrol and training which would be funded by the committee, meeting notes state.
The July 4 decision may be pushed back. Committee members want to hold an open house to showcase the proposal and accept public feedback, and proper maps and signage must be put into place following any decision. A capacity study must also be done to determine the limits of special event permitting.
“There are numerous issues that the board needs to address,” Moinet said. “It seems like more questions come up than answers. We certainly want to proceed with caution.”
Recent action taken to modify the activities allowed in the reservoir includes the 2009 resolution allowed for paddle boarding and wade fishing in the reservoir.
The discussion continues at the next meeting. They are held regularly at about 8:30 a.m. on the third Tuesday of each month, typically at Frisco Town Hall. The next is on June 19. All meetings are open to the public and have an opportunity for public comment.