From The Crested Butte News (Mark Reaman/Alissa Johnson):
The Colorado Water Quality Control Commission voted September 11 to impose the stricter standards despite an argument from U.S. Energy that nearby domestic wells were pumping water from the Slate River instead of Coal Creek. “Frankly, I don’t even recognize my town in the diagrams presented to you from U.S. Energy,” said High Country Citizen’s Alliance (HCCA) water director Jennifer Bock in reference to the claim that the wells were pumping water from the Slate River. The portion of the creek affected by the decision starts at just below the town’s water supply intake to the confluence with the Slate River. By voting to put stricter regulations on that portion of Coal Creek, the commission voted in agreement with positions advocated by HCCA, Gunnison County, the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, and the Gunnison County Stockgrowers.
The segment of Coal Creek is out of compliance with state water quality standards, and has been since temporary modifications were first put in place in the early 1990s. Bock explained that temporary modifications are put in place when a discharger releasing pollutants into a water body cannot meet quality standards and needs more time to assess the situation. “The legal word in the regulations is uncertainty, so if there’s uncertainty about why there’s a pollution problem, it does give the discharger time to resolve it,” Bock said. In this case, U.S. Energy Corp. was requesting an extension of the temporary modifications and more lenient standards on cadmium, zinc and copper.
Initially, U.S. Energy proposed loosening the temporary modifications in addition to extending them. Yet the current temporary standards are already significantly above state standards: of 2.3 micrograms per liter for cadmium as opposed to the more typical range of .15 to 1.2 depending on water hardness, and 667 micrograms per liter for zinc. State standards for zinc are typically between 34 and 428 micrograms per liter, again depending on the hardness of the water. After some back and forth, U.S. Energy instead proposed a slight tightening of the temporary modifications to 2.1 micrograms per liter for cadmium and 440 for zinc. In HCCA’s eyes, that amounts to the status quo, but that’s acceptable for the time being if steps are taken to understand where that pollution is coming from.
In addition to standards for drinking water, the commission granted U.S. Energy’s request for temporary modifications on standards for copper, cadmium and zinc. As part of the decision the Water Quality Control Commission is asking U.S. Energy to develop a comprehensive study on metal loading from Mt. Emmons, which will be the subject of another hearing on December 10 in Denver.