EPA crew at Standard Mine above Crested Butte triggers waste spill — The Denver Post

Fault vein in Standard Mine Gunnison County
Fault vein in Standard Mine Gunnison County

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Only an estimated 2,000 gallons spilled Tuesday, amid efforts to open a collapsed portal. The impact on town water is expected to be minimal…

The Standard Mine, five miles west of Crested Butte and abandoned, has been designated an environmental disaster since 2005 and targeted for a superfund cleanup. It is one of an estimated 230 inactive mines in Colorado that state officials know to be leaking toxic heavy metals into headwaters of the nation’s rivers.

The spill happened at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, and the EPA said it immediately informed public works officials. Residents weren’t notified. Crested Butte Mayor Aaron Huckstep said he wasn’t notified until Thursday.

EPA officials on Wednesday, responding to Denver Post queries about the mine, didn’t reveal the spill. On Thursday afternoon, the agency issued a prepared statement saying that, based on neutral acidity and creek flow levels, Crested Butte didn’t close its water intakes.

“Subsequent investigation found no visible plume or signs of significant impacts in downstream locations,” the EPA said.

At the cleanup site, acidic wastewater laced with cancer-causing cadmium and other toxic heavy metals leaches out of the mine into Elk Creek, which flows into Coal Creek — a primary source of water for Crested Butte. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has determined that the levels of arsenic, cadmium and zinc in Coal Creek exceed state standards.

Huckstep requested EPA help testing water in Elk Creek, Coal Creek and in town.

“I want to make sure that the EPA’s work is being done in a diligent manner and that their contractors are following the right procedures. We’d like to see these types of events not happen,” Huckstep said.

“Obviously, after Gold King, there’s a high level of public concern and attention — rightfully so. … The EPA is willing to come in and do the work. We support that. But we want to make sure that these types of circumstances don’t happen.”

The local Coal Creek Watershed Coalition began additional water sampling along the waterways “to determine what the impact of the spill was,” director Zach Vaughter said.

“While this event is unfortunate, we have a great cooperation and partnership with the EPA working on our watershed. … From what I understand, they’ve kept town staff and the coalition in the loop.”

The EPA has been working toward installation of a long-planned bulkhead plug inside the mine, an effort to reduce the flow of acidic wastewater leaching cadmium, arsenic, lead and manganese from tailings and tunnels.

EPA crew members were drilling a new opening at the mine, parallel to a portal that is partially collapsed. They were using a vacuum truck to siphon water from a waste pond, but the truck “dipped too low,” the EPA’s statement said, causing grey-colored water from inside the mine and sediment to spill into Elk Creek.

From The Gunnison Country Times:

The Town of Crested Butte has been notified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of a spill estimated at 2,000 gallons or less of water and gray-colored sediment from a holding pond at the Standard Mine.

According to the EPA, a contractor had been dewatering the pond containing un-mineralized sediment from drilling operations and water from the lower mine adit. The contents had been treated to a neutral PH of 7. The treated water from the sediment pond was being discharged into Elk Creek as part of a planned maintenance activity. A vacuum truck siphoning clear water from the surface of the pond accidentally dipped into gray-colored sediment leading to the accidental discharge of sediment and gray-colored water into Elk Creek. The discharged material contained a mixture of PH-neutral rock slurry and water from the mine.

Based upon the size and content of the spilled material as understood from the EPA, the flow levels downstream, and the 10 million gallon storage reservoir at the town’s treatment plant, the Town Department of Public Works has determined that any impact to the town’s drinking water would be negligible. The town has also hired an independent contractor to perform additional testing to ensure that there is no negative impact to the town watershed or drinking water.

Work on the holding pond is now complete.

The town is communicating and working closely with the EPA on this issue. The EPA has additionally contacted the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Gunnison County and the Coal Creek Watershed Alliance. The town is also in contact with these agencies.

#AnimasRiver: Water-treatment system announced for #GoldKing — The Durango Herald

New settlement ponds at Gold King Mine August 2015
New settlement ponds at Gold King Mine August 2015

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

The $1.78-million portable treatment facility will be located in Gladstone, according to EPA officials. It will be operational by Oct. 14 and operate during the coming winter. The contract provides for 42 weeks of treatment, with the option to start or stop treatment as needed…

Water continues to flow from the mine at approximately 550 gallons per minute. Without the plant, officials have had to rely on a series of settling ponds to capture the dirty water before being discharged to Cement Creek.

Authorities constructed four ponds at the mine site, which are treating water to remove as much metal loading as possible. The treatment plant will replace the ponds.

EPA officials estimate the plant will cost $20,000 per week to operate, with another $53,200 for demobilization and bonding. EPA will use money from its Superfund coffers to pay for the project. Superfund money is used to clean up blighted areas that could be toxic to humans. Gold King still has not officially been listed as a Superfund site.

The bidding process for the plant was conducted by St. Louis-based Environmental Restoration, LLC, the contractor that was working with the EPA when the spill occurred. The treatment-system contract was awarded to subcontractor Alexco Environmental Group Inc., which has an office in Denver.

Officials said the transition to the plant is necessary as winter temperatures at high elevations can reach well below zero, making it unsafe to manually treat water at the mine site. The system is designed to handle up to 1,200 gallons per minute.

“The objective of the treatment system is to neutralize the mine discharge and remove solids and metals,” stated an EPA news release announcing the facility. “Although the Gold King Mine discharge is just one of many into Cement Creek, the treatment will remove a portion of the metal loading to Cement Creek.”

Though the system is temporary, long-term treatment will be decided after further evaluation of mine discharge, said an EPA spokeswoman.

#AnimasRiver: A silver lining to a toxic orange legacy? — Environment America


Here’s a call to action from Environment America (Russell Bassett):

“Catastrophe!” read the local headlines after 3 million gallons of metal-laden muck spilled into Colorado’s Animas River earlier last month.

The spill forced the city of Durango to close its drinking water intake, and local business that depend on the river were shut down for weeks. The spill traveled through Colorado into New Mexico and Utah, creating concerns for drinking water, crops, and wildlife all along its path.

The orange river made international news, but it also helped highlight a problem that is long overdue for a solution. Hard rock metal mining is the most destructive industry in the world. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory, metal mining is the nation’s top toxic water polluter.

Mining in the western United States has contaminated headwaters of more than 40 percent of the watersheds in the West. Remediation of the half-million abandoned mines in 32 states may cost up to $35 billion or more.

The main reason for this wide-scale degradation of our waterways is an antiquated law that still governs hard rock mining throughout the country. The 1872 Mining Law allows foreign and domestic companies to take valuable minerals from our public lands without paying any royalties, and it still allows public land to be purchased and spoiled for mining at the 1872 price of less than $5 an acre — that’s the price of one mocha for an acre of public land.

Gold King Mine entrance after blowout August 2015
Gold King Mine entrance after blowout August 2015

This outdated law contains no environmental provisions, allowing the mining industry to wreak havoc on water supplies, wildlife and landscapes. For example, abandoned mines are still leaking 540 to 740 gallons a MINUTE of acid drainage into the Animas River headwaters, degrading miles of the watershed. This was the case before the Gold King Mine spill and is still the case after the spill, and there are many more examples throughout much of the West. In fact, it’s estimated that there are half a million abandoned mines throughout the nation.

While the Animas River spill was a tragedy of the first order — and some polluters friends in Congress want to turn it into a witch-hunt of the Environmental Protection Agency — the spill should be the much-needed motivation to enact a solution to clean up after mining’s toxic legacy.

The Hardrock Mining Reform and Reclamation Act of 2015 (HR 963) would fix the problem, but, unfortunately, due to the current political situation in both houses of Congress, this bill has basically zero chance of getting passed. And we need action now because several proposed mines throughout the country could be approved before a real solution to mining’s toxic legacy is passed by Congress.

The Pebble Mine in the headwaters of Alaska’s Bristol Bay, Upper Peninsula Mine near Lake Michigan, Black Butte Mine on Montana’s Smith River, and the Canyon Mine near the Grand Canyon are just a few examples of proposed mines that could wreak havoc on local ecosystems and potentially contaminate watersheds for generations to come.

People from across the country travel to raft and fish in these rivers and lakes. It’s time to protect them from toxic mining pollution. Tax payers are bearing the brunt of cleaning up after the mining industry through superfund designation and other federal funding programs. Using public funds to clean up after a toxic industry, while at the same time allowing that industry to continue to create new mines, is unacceptable. Since Congress won’t do what’s needed, our president should act quickly and decisively.

President Obama has the authority to put a moratorium on all new mines near our waters on public lands. The mining industry should not be allowed to use our public lands to build new mines in and around our cherished waterways until it cleans up from past mining operations. Please tell President Obama to reject all new mine proposals near our rivers until the mining industry cleans up its act. Let’s find the silver lining to the toxic orange river. Please add your voice now.

From The Durango Herald (Peter Marcus):

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton on Thursday [October 1, 2015] expressed concerns with the prospect of federal officials moving forward with a Superfund listing for Silverton near the inactive Gold King Mine.

A divide has emerged over the Superfund question, with some residents and officials of Silverton worried the listing would be a stain on the community. Silverton and San Juan County officials in August clarified their perspective, suggesting that they are open to a listing but that they have not “foreclosed any options.”

In comments before the U.S. Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, Tipton, a Cortez Republican, stated: “Designating Silverton a Superfund site … could severely damage the town’s reputation and prove costly to the local economy.”[…]

Andy Corra, owner of 4Corners Riversports in Durango, who spoke at the same hearing, pushed officials to pursue a Superfund listing.

“Right now, adding the Animas Basin’s offending mines to the EPA’s Superfund National Priorities List is really the only clear path forward,” Corra said.

Listening to the hearing was Colorado U.S. Sens. Cory Garner, a Republican, and Michael Bennet, a Democrat. They joined Tipton in pushing for good Samaritan legislation, which would allow private and state entities to restore inactive mines without the fear of liability. [ed. emphasis mine]

From the Associated Press via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

A rafting company owner, a county commissioner and a chamber of commerce official told the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee that they don’t yet know the full economic impact of the spill, but it has been devastating so far, scaring away visitors and triggering layoffs at travel-related businesses…

La Plata County Commissioner Bradford Blake said outdoor recreation companies, farms, greenhouses and other businesses that rely on the river and its water suffered immediate losses ranging from $8,600 to $100,000 each. “Clearly, we do not know yet what the long-term impact of the Gold King spill, and the publicity generated by it, might be,” he said.

From The Denver Post (Jesse Paul):

Navajo Nation leaders on Friday announced they are asking the federal government for a preliminary damage assessment in the wake of the August Gold King Mine spill upstream in Colorado.

Navajo President Russell Begaye on Thursday sent a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency seeking the estimation.

Begaye said it is the first step in the application process for public assistance for recovery from a disaster for eligible applicants.

“The spill caused damage to the water quality of the San Juan River to such a massive extent that a state of emergency was declared by the Navajo Nation,” Begaye in the letter. “All of the economic, health, cultural and other impacts to the Navajo people are not yet known.”

Grizzly Reservoir update

Grizzly Reservoir via Aspen Journalism
Grizzly Reservoir via Aspen Journalism

From The Aspen Daily News (Chad Abraham):

The effort to repair the gate at Grizzly Reservoir that forced the lake to be drained, sending water laden with heavy metals into the Roaring Fork River in August, began Friday.

And there are now protocols in place so officials, residents and river users are not caught off guard, as they were when the river turned from its usual gin-clear shade to an ugly yellowish-brown on Aug. 11, if future reservoir work is expected to impact the Roaring Fork.

There could again be some discoloration in the Fork and Lincoln Creek from silt stirred up during the “dewatering” of the work site, according to a Roaring Fork Conservancy press release. The dewatering must occur so the gate can be fixed.

But crews with the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., the owner and operator of the Independence Pass Transmountain Diversion System that has purview over Grizzly Reservoir, have set up a silt fence and straw bales and wattles (a formation involving stakes interlaced with slender tree branches) to trap sediment.

Grizzly Reservoir had to be drained because the nonfunctioning gate could have led to a much more serious incident in which the dam failed, said Scott Campbell, the reservoir company’s general manager, shortly after the drainage.

Tests of water and soil samples showed there were levels of iron and aluminum that exceeded state standards for aquatic life. But officials do not believe the material from the 19th-century Ruby Mine will have a long-term impact on the Roaring Fork ecosystem.

Still, the fact that the drainage and discoloration happened so soon after the Animas River pollution disaster alarmed many people, and Campbell has acknowledged that notification about the reservoir work should have been better.

More coverage from The Aspen Times (Jason Auslander):

Those who criticized Grizzly Reservoir officials for draining the lake in August and sending polluted water down the Roaring Fork River for days take note: You’ve been heard.

“I get it,” said Scott Campbell, general manager of the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co. “And I’m sorry I didn’t make those calls” in August warning downvalley communities of the impending drainage.

Now, as repair work is slated to begin on a broken reservoir gate — the reason for the drainage in the first place — officials from Twin Lakes and from downvalley governments and other organizations have established protocols designed to prevent similar surprises in the future.

The new protocols were laid out in a meeting Tuesday at Grizzly Reservoir. They call for government officials in Aspen and Pitkin County as well as those with the Roaring Fork Conservancy to be notified if any changes occur in the operation of Grizzly Reservoir that might affect the Roaring Fork Valley, said April Long, stormwater manager for the city of Aspen.

“They were apologetic and wanted to take the proper steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Long said.

Long said she’s satisfied that the new protocols will prevent another surprise discharge from occurring.

More coverage from Jason Auslander writing for The Aspen Times:

Grizzly Reservoir is a “toxic waste pond,” and if it is ever drained again, people and governments downstream need to know in advance.

That was the word Thursday from Healthy Rivers and Streams Board Chairman Andre Wille, though his fellow board members seemed to agree with the sentiment.

“This is the single biggest water-quality disaster we’ve ever seen in the Roaring Fork River,” Wille said during the board’s meeting Thursday evening. “I just don’t think it was thought through.”

Officials with the Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Co., which runs Grizzly Reservoir, decided to drain the lake around Aug. 8 in order to fix an outlet gate that was jammed by a tree, according to a report that analyzed water samples taken from the discharge.

Progress restoring Tenmile Creek, Peru Creek and other streams in Summit County

From the Summit Daily News (Ali Langley):

Mining, logging and railroad and highway construction in generations past dumped sediment in the Tenmile Creek near Copper Mountain.

“It was just sort of 100 years of abuse,” said Jim Shaw, board treasurer for the nonprofit Blue River Watershed Group, which led the restoration effort.

Climax Molybdenum was the biggest offender. The mine’s dams, built to contain toxic drainage from waste rock, failed, and blowouts caused tons of sediment to rush down the steeper parts of the creek and settle in the flatter parts, destroying habitat and wiping out native flora and fauna.

The 1970 Clean Water Act forced Climax to improve its water treatment process, and the mine was no longer an issue, but the damage remained, Shaw said.

In 2013, a multi-year $800,000 effort began to restore the roughly 2,800 feet of stream impacted. Contributing partners included Climax, Copper Mountain Resort, the Forest Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, CDOT, Friends of the Dillon Ranger District, the National Forest Foundation and the town of Frisco.

Now Shaw said the project is essentially done except for three days of re-vegetation work next week and some planting of shrubs and willows in June. The wetlands have been created, and the oxbows — or U-shaped river bends — have been completed…


As the Tenmile closes on completion, so does another watershed improvement project across the county.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Colorado Department of Reclamation and Mining Safety (DRMS, pronounced dreams) have been leading a collaborative cleanup effort of the Pennsylvania Mine for the last few years.

In early September, the partners installed a second bulkhead deep inside the mine above Peru Creek east of Keystone. The two bulkheads, or giant concrete plugs, will greatly reduce or eliminate negative impacts from the mine’s acid drainage to water quality and fish habitat.

About eight years ago, the Penn Mine experienced a blowout and sent orange water down into the Snake River and Dillon Reservoir. It’s not the latest mine in Summit County to do so.

The Illinois Gulch Mine above the Stephen C. West Ice Arena blew out a couple years later, and the Blue River ran orange and red through Breckenridge and again into Dillon Reservoir.

Now the EPA and DRMS are doing preliminary investigative work in Illinois Gulch, in partnership with the private property owner who owns the land where the mine pollution is coming from, in hopes of starting a cleanup.

“That issue everybody understands, but there hasn’t been a group to take it on yet,” Shaw said. “The state has made it clear that they’ll find money to help.”


For now, the water quality restoration focus in Summit is shifting to the Swan River.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board and Colorado Basin Roundtable together awarded a $975,000 grant to the county to support a large-scale restoration project on the Swan in March.

The restoration area includes about 3,500 feet of river along Tiger Road, 11 miles northeast of Breckenridge, on public land jointly managed by the county and the town of Breckenridge where dredge mining turned the riverbed upside down.

Over the last month or two, the same contractors who did the Tenmile project studied the first quarter of the Swan River project. Work on that section will start in 2016 and finish in 2017, said Brian Lorch, director of the county Open Space and Trails Department.

The county is leading the project with many of the same partners as the Tenmile stakeholders as well as the town of Breckenridge, Trout Unlimited and two private landowners. The $2 million project is also supported in part by a tax increase voters passed in 2014.

The plan for the rest of the Swan River restoration is less certain as the upper three-quarters is covered by rocks about 40 feet high.

Shaw said the project partners could tackle restoration over perhaps 15 years as an excavation company removes and sells the rock. The other option is to pursue larger grant funds and private donations that would expedite the effort but mean maybe 10 times higher costs and more complicated logistics…

Another restoration project in the works lies on the Blue River north of Breckenridge.

The town plans to start a restoration project in the coming years through a 128-acre town parcel known as the McCain property, which borders Highway 9 to the west, north of Coyne Valley Road.

Lorch said the collectives that have made local restoration projects possible deserve credit as do the various stakeholders, which include nearly every government agency and nonprofit concerned about water quality or fisheries in Summit County.

Town watching Coal Creek study — The Crested Butte News

Crested Butte
Crested Butte

From The Crested Butte News (Mark Reaman):

Crested Butte will ask the state to allow the town to be directly involved in the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission’s proceedings dealing with Coal Creek and temporary modifications currently in place.

The request for so-called “Party Status” comes at the request of the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition (CCWC). Coalition board president Steve Glazer came to the council Monday, September 21 with the request.

Temporary modifications of in-stream water quality standards have been in place for Lower Coal Creek for more than 20 years. Those standards are reviewed every three years by the state.

At the 2012 hearing, the state required U.S. Energy, the mining company responsible for the potential molybdenum mine and current water treatment plant on Mt. Emmons, to develop a study plan to address uncertainty regarding pollution sources impacting Coal Creek. Data collection from the study will culminate this year.

The Water Quality Control Commission is set to review the temporary modifications and evaluate progress on the study. Glazer feels the process will likely be continued into 2016 and may include new rule-making involving new standards for Coal Creek.

Given the town’s inherent interest in the watershed, CCWC felt it appropriate to have the town participate.

Children’s World Water Day activities at Littleton-Englewood treatment plant


From the Centennial Citizen (Tom Munds):

Excited laughter and conversations among young voices created a different atmosphere at the Littleton/Englewood Wastewater Treatment Plant as more than 500 students from Englewood, Littleton and Denver made a field trip there for World Water Day activities.

“We have expanded the event this year and have more students attending it,” said Brenda Varner, plant employee and event coordinator. “We have gotten help in expanding the event from a number of agencies that are providing volunteers and displays. Each school’s student group is scheduled to visit every station. The stations provide the opportunity to check out displays, listen to presentations and do hands-on activities. I am sure one of the more popular hand-on activities will be at the booth where each student can create a special T-shirt.”

She said the school groups arrived at different times Sept. 23. Each group then followed a schedule from station to station.

Sixth-graders from Littleton Preparatory Charter School took part in the event. At one of the tour stations, Lily Stinton and other Littleton Prep students were divided into small groups and ran a number of tests on water from the South Platte River.

“I am learning a lot of things I didn’t know about water,” Stinton said. “I am learning about what has to be done to water so it is safe for us to drink. I am glad I came today.”[…]

Fellow student Charles Childers said it was fun testing river water.

“The water looks OK when you have it in the flask,” he said. “Then with the tests and the displays you learn about all the stuff that is in the river and in the river water. I didn’t know much about the river and the water in it so it is cool to learn about those things.”