Clear Creek Watershed: Big Five Mine spill

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Here’s a roundup of the Big Five Mine spill event into Clear Creek, from Ian Neligh writing for the Clear Creek Courant. From the article:

A statement from the city of Golden said the discharge would not have an impact on the city’s water and that its plant operators diverted water before the mine waste could reach the city treatment plant. Idaho Springs itself does not draw any of its own water from Clear Creek.

Chris Brownell, Idaho Springs water and wastewater superintendent, said the spill occurred on the west end of the city about 4 p.m. April 15 and ended several hours later. Brownell estimated that well over 100 gallons per minute were pumped into the stream. He added that his department had taken a sample of the contaminated water to be tested, but said it was likely to include high levels of mercury, iron, lead and arsenic. “It’s nasty stuff,” Brownell said. “And one of the things, as far as aquatic life, they call it ‘acid mine waste’ and at a pH of 2 or 3 — that’s extreme.”[…]

Ed Rapp, president of the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation, said spills typically occur when water builds up in the mine and in natural dams, which form and then burst. The mine sludge typically funnels into an underground pipeline, in this case down Colorado Boulevard and Riverside to the Argo treatment plant. However, if the water flow is too large for the pipelines, it “blows out of the tunnel” then discharges into the river…

Downstream water users, once notified of the discharge, shut off their water intake until the stream clears. Rapp said there are ways of cleaning the water, but because the Clean Water Act doesn’t have a “good samaritan clause,” most entities are dissuaded from any cleanup effort — afraid of being held liable. “Nobody is going to set themselves up to be subject to a third-party lawsuit,” Rapp said. “So until there is a good samaritan clause in the Clean Water Act, why, we’re just going to have to suffer to permit this to occur.” Rapp said in most cases such spills do not have a lot of permanent consequences to the stream. “The fish can survive these short bursts, generally speaking, and then things get back to normal,” Rapp said.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

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