MCKENZIE LANGE/The Daily Sentinel

Mesa County Commissioner Cody Davis, holding tablet, speaks alongside representatives from the Fruita, Grand Junction, the Grand Valley Water Users Association, the state Legislature and the Colorado Contractors Association at Blue Heron Boat Ramp on Wednesday. There is a community-wide effort across the valley to repeal a decision to place Grand Valley drainages on a list of polluted waterways for a high level of selenium.

A group of concerned Grand Valley organizations announced Wednesday they plan to appeal a decision by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to implement total maximum daily levels of selenium and recoverable iron in watersheds north of the Colorado River in the Grand Valley.

Selenium, recoverable iron and E. Coli are all “pollutants of concern” in the watershed, according to a CDPHE report on the total maximum daily levels.

According to the report, elevated selenium levels can cause mortality, deformity and reproductive failure in fish and aquatic birds.

The decision, which would affect 14 “washes” from the Government Highline Canal diversion to below Salt Creek, was announced Aug. 10. The appeal would stop the decision from being forwarded to the Environmental Protection Agency and formally implemented while the appeal process is ongoing.

Mark Harris, general manager of the Grand Valley Water Users Association, said Wednesday he was “saddened and surprised” by the CDPHE’s decision, which he said ignored ongoing efforts to mitigate selenium levels in area water, as well as the amount of selenium that naturally occurs in area soils and gets washed into the watershed whenever it rains.

“It’s (Selenium) naturally occurring and it’s something we know well in western Colorado,” State Rep. Matt Soper (R-Delta) said during a press conference at the Blue Heron Boat Ramp.

Harris said that while protecting water quality is important, the amount of selenium reduction the CDPHE is requiring is impossible from a practical and cost standpoint.

To comply with the regulations, Harris explained, the economic and physical landscape of the Grand Valley would have to change. The cost of complying with CDPHE’s proposed regulations would be borne by area governments and passed on to residents, Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce CEO Diane Schwenke said.

Organizations supporting the appeal are Associated Members of Growth and Development, city of Fruita, city of Grand Junction, Mesa County Valley School District 51, Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, Grand Valley Water Users Association, Housing and Building Association of Colorado, Mack airport, Mesa County, Orchard Mesa Irrigation District, Palisade Irrigation District and Western Colorado Contractors Association.

The selenium in the soil is washed out of the Bookcliffs and into the watershed, Harris said, and mitigation efforts include lining irrigation canals and ditches to keep the selenium from leeching in.

Harris said there has already been a lot of success reducing the selenium levels in the watershed since the 1970s and 80s, success he contends the CDPHE has ignored.

Although the levels aren’t where everyone wants them to be, he said, requiring the levels to be lowered to the level CDPHE wants right now is unreasonable.

“The (CDPHE) should have known better,” Harris said.