Mount Emmons: Restoration of iron fen update

Photo credit from report “A Preliminary Evaluation of Seasonal Water Levels Necessary to Sustain Mount Emmons Fen: Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests,” David J. Cooper, Ph.D, December 2003.

From The Crested Butte News (Cayla Vidmar):

The restoration of a unique wetland on Mt. Emmons is wrapping up this summer season. This special wetland—specifically called an iron fen—was designated in 1999 as a Natural Area by the state of Colorado because of the unusual chemical makeup of the water and soils that provide an ideal ecosystem for rare carnivorous plants and unusual dragonflies. The iron fen has likely been around for about 8,000 years, according to fen expert and senior research scientist and professor at Colorado State University Dr. David Cooper.

According to a report compiled for the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition by Dr. Cooper, “Where perennial ground water discharges to saturate wetlands all year, dead plant leaves, stems and roots only partially decompose and accumulate to form peat soils, and these ecosystems are fens.”

What makes the Mt. Emmons fen unique is that it contains a pyrite-rich bedrock and talus, characteristic of only a few fens in the region. When the pyrite oxidizes it produces sulfuric acid, “which, when dissolved in water, forms a strong acid that can leach ions from the rock, including iron,” Cooper states.

According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, “Mount Emmons and a few other iron fens in the southern Rocky Mountains … are rich in mineral ions (especially iron and sulfur) but have a very low pH, which results in an unusual flora,” including small orchids and one of only four populations of roundleaf sundew in Colorado. Roundleaf sundew is a carnivorous plant that lures insects into a sticky trap, then digests its meal with enzymes before unfurling its trap once again.

The Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests District (GMUG), along with the Army Corps of Engineers and Coal Creek Watershed Coalition, are working to restore the iron fen to pre–wagon road days, which runs parallel with Kebler Pass. The iron fen is located to the north of Kebler Pass Road on Mt. Emmons, and spans 15.1 acres across a sloping hillside.

The dewatering of the fen is mostly being caused by water being diverted into a historic ditch away from the old wagon road. According to Ashley Hom, a hydrologist for the GMUG Forest Service, “Without that ditch the water would destabilize the hillside,” which poses a risk for Kebler Pass Road.

In 2015 a storm on Kebler Pass dumped rain on top of snow, causing “substantial surface flow” across the fen, down the hillside and onto the road, which prompted emergency action by the National Forest personnel to widen the ditch between Kebler Pass Road and the fen, according to the Mt. Emmons restoration and mitigation plan.

While the ditch helped stabilize the hillside by diverting water out of the ground, it also resulted in significant dewatering of the iron fen. This issue is what prompted the restoration project through the GMUG Ranger District, which began in fall 2016.

“The goal of this project is to restore the surface and groundwater hydrology, along with the native vegetation, on the portion of the Mt. Emmons iron fen that was impaired by the emergency action that extended portions of the historic ditch… and included construction of a rockery wall, spillway, culverts, and rip-rap on Kebler Pass Road to protect the road yet allow for natural surface and sub-surface water flow from the fen,” according to the restoration and mitigation plan.

There is still some work to be done, states Hom, including more ditch work, planting, feeding and monitoring in the area, which will resume this summer.

Eight monitoring wells have been placed in the fen, four above the ditch and four below the ditch, and hydrologists will monitor the ground water levels in the wells, and the restoration “will be considered successful if [the wells] below the ditch show the water table depth there to be decreasing or rising closer to the surface,” according to the restoration and mitigation plan.

The plan states that “restoring the presence of a shallow water table within the area should provide for fen-like hydrology,” which will, in turn, restore historic vegetation to the iron fen below the ditch.

“Overall the rehabilitation of the drainage ditch within the Mt. Emmons iron fen appears to be successful. Ground water levels have already risen to within 30 centimeters of the surface and water table levels below the ditch are within at least 15 centimeters of those above the ditch,” according to the GMUG watershed team.

There have been many agencies involved in the restoration of this unique swath of wetland, including the Army Corps of Engineers, which permitted the project, and the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition that allocated $45,000 for phases 1 and 2 of the restoration and mitigation project.

You can follow progress of the project and direct questions to Ashley Hom at the Gunnison Ranger District, (970) 642-4406 or

Permanent Mt. Emmons mine solution in the works — The Crested Butte News

Mount Emmons
Mount Emmons

From The Crested Butte News (Mark Reaman):

New owner, state, county and town all at the table

A giant step was taken this week toward finding a permanent solution to the idea of a molybdenum mining development on Mt. Emmons (also known as Red Lady), resolving environmental problems in that area, protecting the water treatment plant on the site, and possibly taking the idea of a mine off the table.

Further steps will be taken over the next couple of weeks, but state, local and federal officials describe the latest development as “exciting” and “optimistic,” with the potential to finally end the decades-old fight over a moly mine just west of Crested Butte.

U.S. Energy, the long-time owner and permit holder of the potential mine and water treatment plant on Red Lady, entered into an acquisition agreement with the Mt. Emmons Mining Company (MEMC), a wholly owned subsidiary of Freeport-McMoRan Inc. last Friday.

Freeport is one of the world’s largest copper, molybdenum and gold mining companies and is based in Phoenix, Ariz. It owns the Henderson and Climax molybdenum mines in Colorado.

MEMC essentially acquired U.S. Energy’s mine site, located about three miles outside of Crested Butte. The acquisition includes the Keystone Mine, the water treatment plant and other related properties including buildings, land and mining claims. U.S. Energy made the acquisition announcement on February 12.

Here’s US Senator Bennet’s release:

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet issued the following statement on the announcement that Freeport-McMoRan, through a subsidiary, has acquired the water treatment facility that treats the water that is released into Coal Creek and runs into Crested Butte. Freeport-McMoRan also has acquired the mining claims and mineral deposits on Mt. Emmons. The agreement was enshrined in a Memorandum of Understanding for Mt. Emmons, which has been signed by Crested Butte, Gunnison County, the State of Colorado, and Freeport-McMoRan.

“This agreement is a tremendous step forward for the community. It will help ensure the long-term stability of the water treatment facility and the future status of Mt. Emmons. The agreement would not have been possible without the diligent work of Crested Butte, Gunnison County, the state of Colorado, and Freeport-McMoRan.

“Freeport-McMoRan’s work ensures that water treatment of the acid mine drainage into Coal Creek will continue without interruption. The agreement also recognizes the community’s concerns about their future water supply and economy. Mt. Emmons is not an appropriate location for new mining activity, and this agreement moves us toward a final resolution of this issue.”

Gold King catastrophe: Could that happen here? — Crested Butte News

From The Crested Butte News (Adam Broderick):

After the “catastrophe” last week near Silverton, Colo., when roughly three million gallons of toxic water ran into the Animas River, the question arose whether something similar could happen here in the Upper East River Valley. According to local environmental leaders, the answer is, possibly.

While Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials working on the old Standard Mine this summer say such an event isn’t likely, Alli Melton of High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA) says there is no guarantee that Coal Creek is completely safe from acid mine drainage…

Regional project manager for the EPA on the Standard Mine Project Christina Progess said that the EPA is very concerned about what’s happened at the Gold King Mine and that the management team at the Standard Mine on Mt. Emmons near Crested Butte has plans in place to help reduce the likelihood of a similar event happening there…

On a local level, Alli Melton of High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA) told the Crested Butte News this accident demonstrates how challenging it is to clean
up the legacy of acid mine drainage.

“Importantly, it’s not the EPA’s fault alone. Many are just as responsible,” Melton said of the Animas spill. “What we do or fail to do affects millions of people and animals and hundreds of local communities, not just ourselves.

“Over the years, we’ve seen how complicated these efforts often are when working in headwaters, involving complex hydrology between mine workings, ground water, and surface water, as well as seeps and springs, among other things,” Melton continued. “Most unfortunately, it’s the communities and taxpayers that are stuck with the legacy of contamination long after the mining has died out and still in 2015 with no silver bullet to remedy the contamination.”

Melton said although Crested Butte also has a legacy of acid mine drainage, here much of it is being treated by a water treatment plant operated and owned by U.S. Energy. However, no bond has been imposed on the plant, which would be a problem should U.S. Energy ever put operations on hold.

According to Melton, “Without a bond, we have no guarantee that the plant will continue to run without interruption, even though we rely on its continued operation to prevent Coal Creek from having acid mine drainage discharged directly into it.”

Steve Glazer, president of the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition board of directors, noted that in the Gold King Mine, the bulkhead, or dam, had built up mine drainage pressure and failed, releasing the contaminated water.

Glazer said, ‘“In the Standard Mine, there is only juvenile water [current year’s snowmelt] that is contaminated in Level 2 before being discharged at Level 1. The bulkhead planned for installation in Level 1 will have a valve in it and its purpose is only intended to level out the seasonal hydraulic variations and not to build up storage with only minimal pressure behind it.”

Glazer wrote in an email that the water treatment plant (WTP) has a retention pond that can hold one to two days of draining water storage, plus an emergency retention pond that can hold multiple days of discharge. He said if the WTP were to stop operating, after the emergency storage capacity was exceeded, untreated acid mine drainage would contaminate Coal Creek, the Slate River and the East River below their confluences.

“The dilution from the Taylor might be enough to prevent toxic levels in Gunnison (or not). This would have to occur before EPA would step in and take over the WTP. In an emergency, the Town could extend its intake upstream to avoid receiving any contaminated surface overflow,” Glazer wrote.

At the request of the Red Lady Coalition and HCCA, the Crested Butte Town Council agreed at a meeting in late July to go on record that the town needs protection and state and federal agencies will be asked to impose a bond on the plant. A letter is being drafted and an update could be presented at next week’s council meeting.

Progess addressed several differences between the Gold King Mine and the Standard Mine in an email to the News. She said there is a much better understanding of the water levels inside the Standard Mine than at the Gold King Mine because the management team has been inside the Standard Mine and boreholes from the surface have been drilled into the old mine workings so the presence of contaminated water levels and any buildup in pressure can be measured.

Progess noted that the workings within the Standard Mine are not completely full of water.

“We are driving a new tunnel to intercept existing workings behind collapses within the lowest level of the mine,” Progess wrote, pointing out that work at the Standard Mine is proceeding cautiously to ensure contaminated water is contained.

Progess wrote, “We have precautions in place such as containment ponds to trap sediment and water as it flows from the workings, and will be treating this water as it comes out prior to discharging it to Elk Creek. We also have a communication plan set up with the Crested Butte water treatment plant whereby we will notify them if a major release of contaminated water were to occur as a result of our work at Standard. This will allow them to switch to an alternate drinking water source if necessary.”

Carol Worrall, director of public health in Gunnison County, said after seeing what happened to the Animas she also wondered if something similar could happen here. She believes there is a certain amount of “we have the purest water” mentality here in Crested Butte, but we might not be aware of particular metals. She guessed that nearly 70 percent of people in Gunnison County rely on private wells and most people, when testing their wells, test for bacteria. But for cases like these, water needs to be tested for heavy metals, which aren’t as easily detected.

“The responsibility for the private wells lies on the property owners,” Worrall said. “People tend to have their wells tested when they’re initially getting permits, but then go about their lives and don’t do further testing. Most people, when testing their wells, test for bacteria. But when you’re looking at mining, you’re looking at heavy metals.”

Worrall said when she read about the Animas spill, she thought the visuals were pretty shocking and had hopes that maybe the spill would help influence people here to test their own well water. She thinks it would be best for people to test their well water now and then, and if there were some later disturbance, conduct follow-up testing.

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health website, there is no generic water test for everything, so each contaminant must be evaluated individually. However, if you’re buying or building a house and need to have a well tested, a standard test is available and testing supplies are free of charge. Call (303) 692-3048 for more information and to order water tests.

Colorado abandoned mines
Colorado abandoned mines

Gunnison River Basin: The June Watershed News from the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition is hot off the press


Click here to read the news.

More Gunnison River Basin coverage here and here.

Crested Butte: Stricter water quality standards mandated by CWQCC for Coal Creek through town


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.

More Gunnison River Basin coverage here and here.

After a five year review the EPA has approved the remediation plan for the Standard Mine superfund site


From The Crested Butte News (Alissa Johnson):

The two-phase plan would control the flow of water through the mine to reduce contamination, and if needed, use passive water treatment to further treat runoff.

The record of decision, signed in September, has the support of the local nonprofit Standard Mine Technical Advisory Group but still needs to be selected for federal funding. It could take until 2013 before the plan is implemented, complementing remediation work already done from 2007 through 2009.

The Standard Mine, which is about five miles west of Crested Butte and drains into Elk Creek, was added to the National Priority List in 2005 because of elevated levels of metals in the soil and the creek. Elk Creek flows into Coal Creek, which is the site of the municipal water intake for Crested Butte.

“We were really fortunate that when the EPA first came in 2006, they had the funding to do some surface cleanup first,” said Anthony Poponi, executive director of Coal Creek Watershed Coalition and grant administrator for the advisory group. That work included building a repository for mine tailings that included waste rock and tailings rich in pyrite, a metal that creates acid mine drainage when exposed to air. After removing waste rock and tailings from Elk Creek, the EPA also reconfigured the creek.

“The miners had produced a creek channel around and through the mill site, which was not the natural orientation, so once we took the tailings out, we dropped the creek back to its natural alignment,” explained EPA superfund project manager Christina Progess. That alignment includes small wetlands and riparian areas and has led to a measureable reduction in metals in Coal Creek and Elk Creek…

“There are three connected mine levels,” said Poponi, “and the EPA knew water coming in at the highest level was in pretty good condition and by the time it came out at level 1 [at the bottom] it was really bad, so they did some investigations and what they came up with was the proposed plan.” The first phase of the remediation plan proposes filling the entrance at level 3, toward the top of the mine, with a flowable fill and foam. That fill, a concrete mixture, would seal off the entrance to the mine so that clean water could be prevented from entering mine workings and would reduce the amount of water coming out of level 1…

A flowthrough bulkhead would be installed at level 1 to control the water flowing out of the bottom of the mine. The bulkhead would allow for what Progess calls the “metered release” of water from the mine…

Residents interested in learning more about the plan are invited to attend an EPA-hosted community meeting on November 30, at 1 p.m. in Town Hall.

More Standard Mine coverage here and here.

The High Country Citizens’ Alliance and the Western Mining Action Project file lawsuit over prospecting activities at the Mt. Emmons mine

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From The Crested Butte News (Mark Reaman):

HCCA, along with the Western Mining Action Project, filed the suit in Denver District Court on Wednesday, March 2. “We firmly believe the mining company needs to put up a bond that should address water treatment issues,” explained HCCA executive director Dan Morse.

The Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board, which oversees all mining decisions in the state, granted final approval for the proposal in January 2011, but failed to require any bonding amount for the treatment of polluted water from the Project.

According to a HCCA press release, “The approved activities include the construction of a mining drift that would be 8 feet wide by 10 feet high generating as much as 15,000 cubic yards of waste material, which is described as having the potential to generate acid mine discharge. This mining drift would be used to conduct a program of delineation drilling of the ore body. Many of the residents of the Town of Crested Butte are concerned about the project’s impacts because the activities would take place within the town’s municipal drinking watershed.”

More Gunnison River basin coverage here.

Gunnison River basin: The High Country Citizen’s Alliance files lawsuit over Mt. Emmons mine plans

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From the Associated Press via Bloomberg Businessweek:

The High Country Citizens’ Alliance filed a lawsuit in Denver last week over work planned at Mount Emmons. It says Colorado mining officials should have required U.S. Energy Corp. to post a large enough bond to cover water treatment costs from its proposed work before approving the company’s plans.

More Gunnison River basin coverage here.

CPDPHE and CWQD extend U.S. Energy’s Mt. Emmons mine water quality progress report until April 1

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From The Crested Butte News (Mark Reaman):

U.S. Energy was sent a “Compliance Advisory Letter” at the end of December by the division. The letter advised the company 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.” U.S. Energy is the primary mining patent holder for the Mt. Emmons project, a proposed mine that would extract molybdenum from Mt. Emmons. Water quality sampling between 2008 and 2010 has shown that the water from the mine property exceeds water quality standards for Coal Creek, according to Dave Akers with the water Quality Control Division.

More Mt. Emmons mine coverage here.

The Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board upholds the approval additional prospecting for the Mt. Emmons molybdenum mine near Crested Butte

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From The Crested Butte News (Mark Reaman):

The state last week rejected an appeal by the High Country Citizens’ Alliance to overturn a decision approving a proposal for additional prospecting at the proposed Mt. Emmons molybdenum mine. With a 4-1 vote, the Colorado Mined Reclamation Board agreed to allow a new mine tunnel, or drift, to be constructed as part of the proposed prospecting activities by the Mt. Emmons Moly Company (MEMCO). The original decision was approved by the Colorado Division of Reclamation and Mining Safety (DRMS). The hearing lasted almost five and a half hours. With the MLRB’s ruling in place, MEMCO is now authorized by the state of Colorado to pursue prospecting activities, which will allow for further exploration to better define the molybdenum deposit at Mount Emmons. In a press release from MEMCO, Larry Clark, vice president and general manager of the Mount Emmons Project for Thompson Creek said, “MEMCO will continue to work through permitting requirements as we proceed with these activities, and we will continue keeping the Gunnison Country community apprised of our progress.”

More Gunnison River basin coverage here.

U.S. Energy Corp. responds to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s clean up order for the Mt. Emmons mine

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Here’s the letter via The Crested Butte News. Here’s the article previewing Friday’s meeting between U.S. Energy Corp. and the state, from Mark Reaman writing for The Crested Butte News. From the article:

U.S. Energy Corp. will be meeting Friday with representatives from the state’s Water Quality Control Division to get some clarification of the state’s pollution concerns.

The mining company responded last week to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment over concerns Coal Creek is being polluted with heavy metals from the mine on Mt. Emmons. The response basically disagrees with the ultimate conclusions of the state. “In short, U.S. Energy disagrees with the Division’s suggestion that stormwater discharges from the Mt. Emmons Project are causing or threatening to cause degradation of Coal Creek,” a letter dated January 11 from the mining company states.

The state had sent U.S. Energy a “Compliance Advisory Letter” at the end of December warning of “possible violations of the Colorado Water Quality Control Act.” It demanded the company formulate a plan to bring down the levels of heavy metals measured in the creek and have a progress report ready by February 1. Sampling over the last few years on the mine property showed huge spikes in the heavy metal levels in Coal Creek.

More Gunnison River basin coverage here.

USFS: Gunnison District to host two presentations about the Mt. Emmons Mine

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From the Montrose Daily Press:

[U.S. Energy Corp] The company wants to undertake geologic studies, using test pits and shallow holes, to analyze the soils and geology in the area, which has molybdenum.

The first meeting will be from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Jan. 25 in the South Ballroom (Room 215) at the Western State College Student Center in Gunnison. (Park in the north parking lot.) Another meeting will be from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Jan. 26 at the Lodge at Mountaineer Square, Mountaineer Conference Center, in Crested Butte.

The U.S. Forest Service wants to present more information on what is proposed for the baseline studies and the agency’s role in the projects and proposals, said Gunnison District Ranger John Murphy. “It’s important for folks to know the sideboards of our authority, as well as to provide them an opportunity to discuss the proposed work with resource specialists,” he said.

More Gunnison River basin coverage here.

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.

The Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board upholds the approval additional prospecting for the Mt. Emmons molybdenum mine near Crested Butte

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From the Associated Press (Catharine Tsai) via Bloomberg. From the article:

Riverton, Wyo.-based U.S. Energy Corp. won state approval last year of a revised plan to build a mine tunnel at Mount Emmons. The Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board voted 4-1 Wednesday to uphold the approval and reject an appeal from the High Country Citizens’ Alliance.

The group’s executive director Dan Morse says the High Country Citizens’ Alliance still has concerns about water quality for Crested Butte.

More Gunnison River basin coverage here.

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

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From email from the High Country Citizens’ Alliance (Dan Morse, High Country Citizens’ Alliance/Jeff Parsons, Western Mining Action Project):

The State of Colorado has found US Energy Corp’s Mount Emmons mine site outside of Crested Butte exceeding state water quality standards for multiple heavy metal pollutants and is requiring the company to remedy the water quality issues or face further violation orders and penalties. In a letter sent to US Energy Corp CEO Keith Larsen on December 27, 2010 the Colorado Water Quality Control Division details possible violations of the Colorado Water Quality Control Act for discharges of Aluminum, Cadmium, Copper, Iron, Lead, Manganese, Zinc and low pH levels. The State’s letter requires a response from US Energy Corp by January 12, 2011 and requires a plan to be developed and implemented that would bring the discharges into compliance. The CDPHE letter is available here.

The revelations of contamination come just as the State of Colorado mining division is simultaneously in the process of reviewing and approving new mine development activity at the same Mt. Emmons site. The mine proponents are seeking permission to construct a new mine tunnel, produce waste rock and conduct drilling in the mine. The proposed operations would involve the handling of large volumes of water and ground disturbance in the Crested Butte watershed. Dan Morse, Executive Director of the Crested Butte environmental group High Country Citizens’ Alliance commented, “The State’s review process for a new mining tunnel at this site has so far avoided addressing these water quality risks including the need for substantial financial guarantees if new work is approved.”

The Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board will hear an appeal of the proposed mining activities on Wednesday January 12 at 9am at 1313 Sherman Street, Room 318, in Denver.

Morse added “We have had long standing concerns about the quality of surface water, ground water and water in the historic mine workings on Mt. Emmons. The state’s advisory letter to US Energy clearly confirms our fears and shows that water from this mine site is polluting Coal Creek as it runs through Crested Butte. We are deeply concerned for the protection of Crested Butte’s drinking watershed and the natural environment of Coal Creek.”

The Mt. Emmons Project is a proposed molybdenum mine located three miles west of Crested Butte on the flanks of 12,000 foot Mt. Emmons. The mine property is owned by US Energy Corp of Riverton, Wyoming and operated in conjunction with Denver based partner Thompson Creek Metals Company. The mine proposal is at the site of historic mining activity that resulted in severe mining pollution that is now treated in a water treatment plant. The state’s recent advisory letter addresses surface water runoff not captured in the treatment plant, instead flowing directly to Coal Creek. Coal Creek is the sole source of drinking water for the Town of Crested Butte.

Water quality monitoring by another local group, the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition, has shown elevated pollutant levels in the creek for the last five years, but the sources of the metals have remained unclear. Efforts to improve water quality in Coal Creek date back as far as the late 1970’s when AMAX, Inc. installed an industrial water treatment plant at the mine site at the requests of the Town of Crested Butte, State of Colorado, US Forest Service, and area residents. Although that plant improved water quality, Coal Creek continues to be listed as an impaired water body by state regulators.

Jeff Parsons, Senior Attorney with Western Mining Action Project stated, “These pollution problems are serious and deserve immediate attention. U.S. Energy should not be allowed to expand its mining activities and create more impacts until it can clean up the mess that’s already there.”

More Gunnison River basin coverage here.

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

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

A Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment “compliance advisory” orders site owner U.S. Energy Corp. to clean up the contamination at the Mount Emmons mine near Crested Butte.
But a watchdog group says mining regulators have not collected required bond money from the company to guarantee a cleanup if U.S. Energy can’t do the job.

“We’re doing everything in our power to comply with all regulations. We certainly want to do everything we can to keep the drinking water as safe as we can,” U.S. Energy chief executive Keith Larsen said. “We’re addressing the issues. It’s not our obligation to get it out of the creek. It is our obligation to treat water as it comes out of the mine.”

The contamination documented by state water-quality inspectors complicates a case where state mining regulators already have granted U.S. Energy a prospecting permit to work one of the world’s largest and purest known deposits of molybdenum.

More Gunnison River basin coverage here.

Coal Creek Watershed coalition awarded two grants

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From The Crested Butte News:

he Coal Creek Watershed Coalition (CCWC) recently received $33,006 from two sources to further their work within the Coal Creek Watershed. The Colorado Healthy Rivers Fund awarded $10,756 to the CCWC to fund four programs. A portion of the funding will be used to complete the data analysis and interpretation of a tracer study. The study will characterize groundwater interactions with surface water during spring conditions. The funds will also be used to help provide support for a storm water study being conducted in 2009. The remaining funds will be used to attend conferences and workshops and will also provide funding for a third year of VISTA member support for the organization.

The CCWC was also awarded $22,250 by the Colorado Water Conservation Board to complete a riparian assessment in the watershed. The goal of the assessment is to assess the health of riparian (river) corridors within the watershed to develop prioritized list of areas most suitable for future restoration efforts. Ultimately healthy riparian areas contribute to the overall health of stream systems, provide habitat for a variety of organisms, function in the maintenance of a normal hydrologic regime and are aesthetically pleasing; among other values.

More Gunnison Basin coverage here.