City closes reservoir after fish test positive for mercury; Officials say drinking water still safe

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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) - Fish in the City of Grand Junction's largest water source have tested positive for mercury, prompting officials to shut down fishing and other public activities that take place there.

More than 26,000 city residents get their water from the Juniata Reservoir.

While city officials stress that water remains perfectly safe, they say they made the decision to close the reservoir to avoid creating a huge mess of problems.

A once popular fishing spot now greets outdoorsmen with chains and padlocks, the culmination of what city officials say has been more than a year of back-and-forth with the state.

"It's the only option that we have available to us right now as part of a regulatory process to determine what should happen," said Grand Junction City Manager Laurie Kadrich.

After doing routine tests at the Juniata Reservoir, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment learned small-mouth bass there, a fish not native to the area, had heightened levels of mercury.

In response, the City posted notices warning fishermen of the discovery and encouraging them not to eat the fish. But officials learned just a few weeks ago that by posting the notices, they set themselves up to be put on a statewide list of "impaired" waters, a list that results in strict state and federal oversight programs. The Colorado Water Quality Control Division has talked with the city about staying off that list if it can get rid of the fish or isolate the reservoir.

"We'd like to avoid that regulatory process if at all possible," said Kadrich.

City officials would also like to avoid public panic, which they believe could be an unintentional result of people misunderstanding the situation.

"Our water supply that is delivered to your tap is safe," said Kadrich. "There is absolutely no need for concern."

Officials say water from the reservoir is tested daily at the water treatment plant it flows into, and no mercury has been found.

Nonetheless, they plan to take the necessary steps to avoid being put on the impaired waters list. But until the state tells them what those steps are, the padlocks will remain.

"None of those decisions have been made,"said Kadrich.

The City expects to meet with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment March 9 to figure out how to deal with the fish.

Officials say it's unfortunate they've had to close off the reservoir to the public, but they hope when a solution to this problem is found, it will eventually allow fishing to take place there again.

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