The Willow Creek Restoration Committee is celebrating their 15 year anniversary

February 16, 2013

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From The Mineral County Miner (Guinevere Nelson):

The Creede Mining District had many waste rock piles, seeps, mine adits and mill tailings when the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE) performed their preliminary assessment of Willow Creek in 1994. The findings prompted further inspection of Willow Creek’s water and were summarized into a report in 1997.

This report provided the basis for listing the Creede Mining District on the National Priorities List under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Com-pensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as the Superfund Act.

The Superfund Listing encompassed the entire Creede Mining District, including both branches of Willow Creek. The consequences of Superfund designation on Creede’s tourist based economy were unknown, but a few concerned citizens were not interested in finding out.

Steve Russell from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Mark Haugen of the Rio Grande Soil Conservation Service and with the support of the City of Creede, held a meeting and informed attendees about the proposed listing.

A year later, the Willow Creek Reclamation Committee was taking action to address the issues causing poor water quality in Willow Creek without EPA intervention. The Creede Mining District was not listed as a Superfund Site and the Willow Creek Reclamation Committee went to work.

To complete their work, the WCRC defined six core goals to guide their efforts: 1) Protect the Rio Grande from future fish kills associated with nonpoint source releases during unusual hydrologic events. 2) Improve the visual and aesthetic aspects of the Willow Creek watershed and its historical mining district. 3) Implement appropriate and cost-effective flood control and stabilization measures for nonpoint sources. 4) Protect and preserve historic structures. 5) Reclaim the Willow Creek floodplain below Creede to improve the physical, chemical, biological and aesthetic qualities of the creek as an integral part of the local community. 6) Continue to improve water quality and physical habitat quality in the Willow Creek watershed as part of a long-term watershed management program.

From its inception, the Willow Creek Project has had a firm commitment to find innovative, non-regulatory approaches to improve the water quality in Willow Creek and to protect the gold medal fishery in the Rio Grande River downstream – a premier fly-fishing stream. Local residents were ready and eager to apply best management practices (BMP’s) to reduce the metals in the stream so that water quality standards could be achieved, only to find out that the information and data on the sources and loadings of the metals were incomplete. The WCRC received CDPHE funding and spent from 1999-2003 sampling surface water, groundwater, waste rock piles, mine pools, macroinvertebrates and fish to fill in the information gaps.

More restoration/reclamation coverage here.


Whit Gibbons: ‘Why do we need the Environmental Protection Agency?’

January 29, 2012

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From the Tuscaloosa News (Whit Gibbons). Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Want to have cancer-causing, bird-killing DDT sprayed in your neighborhood? How about having high levels of brain- damaging mercury dumped into your favorite fishing spot? What about paper mill wastes clogging up rivers and fouling the air people breathe?

These health hazards were once commonplace in communities throughout our country. That they are no longer the hazards they once were is due in no small part to the Environmental Protection Agency, which protects us from these and other environmental abuses. Without EPA oversight, the United States would be a much less healthy place to live.

Those who believe we do not need federal regulation of activities that can turn the country into a toxic waste dump are likely unaware of the far-reaching environmental and human health consequences of such actions. They may also not want to accept the fact that some individuals and many corporations will put profit ahead of all other considerations–including the health and well-being of the general populace.

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.


Creede: Willow Creek floodplain restoration planning meetings to start this fall

July 11, 2011

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Strewn with waste rock and mine tailings and largely bereft of vegetation, the 1 1/2-mile stretch that sits astride Colorado 149 is due for a face-lift. The project will take on a number of goals, including the transformation of the creek from a braided channel that races to the Rio Grande to park, recreational and open space for the town’s roughly 300 residents.

But what residents hope to see from the 151 acres in the flood plain recently annexed by the town will be determined, in part, by what they call for during planning meetings that could come as soon as this fall. “The fall planning will be one of the next big hurdles,” said Eric Grossman, a town trustee, who sits on the four-member board of the non-profit that will direct the flood plain’s cleanup…

Grossman said initial ideas have ranged far and wide, including a community garden, open space, a miniature golf course and trails for pedestrians and ATV users…

With public input this fall, the nonprofit also is going to try to nail down the design features for Willow Creek’s new alignment. The stream has run down the flood plain in a braided channel since at least 1939, according to aerial photos that were analyzed in a 2007 study of the flood plain by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The braided structure, in combination with water and soil contamination from nearly a century of mining in the area, has led to poor ecosystem function.

An important solution for water contamination will come when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency settles on a cleanup remedy for the Nelson Tunnel, which is the watershed’s largest contributor of pollutants such as cadmium, zinc and lead. Agency officials said last month they are conducting a pair of studies that will help determine the cleanup measure for the tunnel. The tunnel, which sits upstream from the flood plain in the historic mining district, was declared an EPA Superfund site in 2008.

More Nelson Tunnel/Commordore Waste Rock superfund site coverage here and here.


Creede: Town Board moves to annex part of Willow Creek floodplain

July 18, 2009

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Here’s an update on actions up in Creede to restore the floodplain between the town and the Rio Grande, from Matt Hildner writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

The board adopted a land-use plan and agreed to a memorandum of understanding with the property’s owners. The agreement with Creede Resources, which owns 156 acres south of town, was approved unanimously and calls for the company to request annexation for 94 acres of flood plain by Oct. 1 and submit an application to the Colorado Voluntary Cleanup and Redevelopment Program.

The floodplain – a 1.5-mile stretch between Creede and the creek’s confluence with the Rio Grande that greets visitors as they enter the town on Colorado 149 – has been left largely barren and incapable of naturally restoring itself after nearly a century of mining in the former boomtown. While the Willow Creek Reclamation Committee and, more recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have tackled cleanup of the mining district north of town, the floodplain has been largely untouched with the exception of the southwestern corner that was reclaimed for the Mineral County Fairgrounds. “It’s been a long time getting to this point,” Mayor Rex Shepperd said. The land-use plan adopted by the city calls for leaving most of the floodplain as open space suitable for parks, trails and recreation.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.


Nelson Tunnel/Commodore Waste Rock Pile superfund update

June 28, 2009

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From The Mineral County Miner:

Hays Griswold, overseeing the stabilization of the pile for the EPA, said the original plan to build a ramp up the channel for West Willow Creek that would serve as the stream bed was abandoned after this year’s runoff threatened to wash away part of the two-acre pile…

The new design for the project, once the channel is established in bedrock, would line grouted boulders four-to-six feet up the side of the bed. From there, the pile would be benched and pushed back further…

While the end of work is near on the rock pile, the EPA is still doing testing inside the Nelson Tunnel to determine the type and number of water sources entering the 8,000-foot adit that drains five mines before dumping into West Willow Creek.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here and here.


Creede: EPA may finish cleanup on Commodore waste rock pile by December

June 5, 2009

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The EPA has a plan to channel Willow Creek on bedrock which will remove the threat of the rock pile washing downstream at the Nelson Tunnel/Commodore Waste Rock superfund site. Here’s a report from Matt Hildner writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Hays Griswold, who’s overseeing the stabilization of the pile for the EPA, said the original plan to build a ramp up the channel for West Willow Creek that would serve as the stream bed was abandoned after this year’s runoff threatened to wash away part of the two-acre pile…

High runoff in 2005 did wash away large portions of the pile and sent debris streaming down the canyon where it threatened to block the flume that funnels the creek through town. That event highlighted the instability of the pile, which also contains contaminants such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, manganese and zinc, among others.

The new design for the project, once the channel is established in bedrock, would line grouted boulders four-to-six feet up the side of the bed. From there, the pile would be benched and pushed back further. “If we can make it as wide as we can, I don’t foresee anybody having to fight with it again like the county has and the city has every year,” he said. In the meantime, the EPA’s contractors are digging through various cribbing in the pile in an effort to reach the remaining third of the bedrock they believe is needed for the stream bed. Griswold estimated the stabilization of the waste rock pile would cost between $2 million to $3 million.

While the end of work is near on the rock pile, the EPA is still doing testing inside the Nelson Tunnel to determine the type and number of water sources entering the 8,000-foot adit that drains five mines before dumping into West Willow Creek. The agency did the first round of testing on the site in November and plans another round next week. After the data is gathered, the agency will do a feasibility study on the best cleanup solution for the tunnel, which is the watershed’s biggest contributor of cadmium, lead and zinc.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.


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