Gunnison River basin: CPDHE orders U.S. Energy Corp. to clean up water from the Mt. Emmons mine

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From The Crested Butte News (Mark Reaman):

The first thing to know is that the town of Crested Butte drinking water is fine…

The state is demanding that U.S. Energy Corp, the company that ultimately owns the Mt. Emmons Project molybdenum mine, correct the situation immediately. U.S. Energy CEO Keith Larsen said the company is confident the situation will be rectified. “We can work through the issues. We want to have a face-to-face meeting with the state to talk about the things found in the report,” he said. “But the crux of the issue is, what is the obligation of a landowner to treat those waters that are contaminated with heavy metals that migrate onto your property during a heavy runoff?”

The state’s Water Quality Control Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has given U.S. Energy until this week to respond to findings outlined by the department. An official “Compliance Advisory letter” was sent to U.S. Energy at the end of December. That letter “is intended to advise US Energy Corp. of possible violations of the Colorado Water Quality Control Act, its implementing regulations and permits, so that it may take appropriate steps to avoid or mitigate formal enforcement action.” The company must begin increased monitoring of the water immediately and “prepare a plan to reduce concentrations to below the standard, review with the Division and implement the plan as approved by the Division.” A progress report is expected by February 1 with regular updates expected throughout the year.

According to the letter from the state, sampling conducted by the mine company on its property between the fall of 2008 and the fall of 2010 showed violations in water quality standards. In May 2009, huge violations of the water quality standards in terms of heavy metals including aluminum, cadmium, copper, iron, lead manganese, pH and zinc were found. The samples in some cases were more than 30 times the upper limit of the state’s standards. For example, the upper limit for cadmium is 4.3 micrograms per liter but 140.6 micrograms per liter were found. The upper limit for aluminum is 750 micrograms per liter. But the sample showed 11,497.9 micrograms per liter…

“I think what happened was that naturally occurring seepage from the mountain after the snowfall runoff picked up some metals,” Larsen continued. “We are the ones monitoring the situation.” “I think what it gets down to is, what is the obligation of any landowner to treat offsite heavy metals that migrate onto your property with heavy runoff. Is that our obligation?

Other landowners in the Crested Butte area might be subject to the same responsibility.” [High Country Citizens’ Alliance executive director Dan Morse] said HCCA feels the polluted water is coming off U.S. Energy’s private land and unpatented mining claims. “We understand there is a bulkhead in the 2000 level of the Keystone mine [2,000 feet below the Mt. Emmons peak] that is holding back about 170 vertical feet of water,” said Morse. “The question is, does all that water create artificial seeps and springs that allows polluted water to reach the surface? Are there fractures in the rock causing this water to get to the surface and ultimately pollute Coal Creek? The fact is, Coal Creek is contaminated with heavy metals… and the question remains, are they from this source?”

More Gunnison River basin coverage here.

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