@EPA: Bonita Peak Mining District among Superfund sites targeted for intense and immediate attention. (Hope for funding.)

On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
Eric Baker

Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency (Andrew Mutter/Lisa McClain-Vanderpool):

EPA announces elevation of 21 sites nationwide

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released the list of Superfund sites that Administrator Pruitt has targeted for immediate and intense attention. The 21 sites on the list – from across the United States – are in direct response to the Superfund Task Force Recommendations, issued this summer, calling for this list.

“By elevating these sites we are sending a message that EPA is, in fact, restoring its Superfund program to its rightful place at the center of the Agency’s mission,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “Getting toxic land sites cleaned up and revitalized is of the utmost importance to the communities across the country that are affected by these sites. I have charged the Superfund Task Force staff to immediately and intently develop plans for each of these sites to ensure they are thoughtfully addressed with urgency. By getting these sites cleaned up, EPA will continue to focus on ways we can directly improve public health and the environment for people across America.”

In Colorado, the Bonita Peak Mining District (BPMD) site is on the Administrator’s Superfund list for emphasis. EPA is currently working with the State of Colorado as well as its federal partners, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, to develop a Five-Year Plan that outlines cleanup activities and remediation objectives for the site. EPA is working closely with the local government and community stakeholders to ensure the interests of the community are met.

“We are heavily invested in achieving tangible water quality improvements in the Upper Animas watershed,” said EPA Regional Administrator Doug Benevento. “EPA has a unique responsibility at this site and by placing it on this list we are recognizing that responsibility and ensuring the community that it is going to be a priority.”

While long-term planning continues, EPA is using an adaptive management approach at the site that supports early actions to improve water quality, stabilize mine features and address priority areas that pose a risk to human health. Through his hands-on engagement at the BPMD site, Administrator Pruitt will advance progress on site cleanup without expending additional taxpayer dollars.

“Today’s announcement to include the Bonita Peak Mining District site to the EPA’s Superfund “Emphasis List” is an important step forward,” said Governor John Hickenlooper. “We visited the site with EPA Administrator Pruitt in August and are encouraged by his follow through with resources and support to the agency’s cleanup efforts. This is in addition to other national priority list sites like the Colorado Smelter site in Pueblo, where important EPA cleanup actions also are underway. We look forward to working closely with the EPA, our communities and our Congressional delegation to remediate these sites.”

“Secretary Pruitt assured me when I met with him before his confirmation and when we visited the site in August that the EPA would make the right decision for the people of Southwest Colorado, and I appreciate his agency following through on their promise,” said Senator Cory Gardner. “The Gold King mine spill has had a significant impact on our state and there will continue to be a lot of work done by our elected officials and community. This latest commitment to the Bonita Peak Mining District along with continued attention to Colorado Smelter cleanup actions in Pueblo are important steps in the progress that needs to be made by the EPA at both locations.”

“We applaud the EPA’s decision to prioritize the Bonita Peak Mining District site, and we encourage them to keep working with state officials to secure funding for a local community liaison based in Silverton to improve coordination for the BPMD site among local, state, and federal governments,” said Senator Michael Bennet. “The administration and Congress should also work together to ensure all Superfund sites, including important clean-up efforts underway in Pueblo, have the resources and support they need.”

The Bonita Peak Mining District (BPMD) became a Superfund site on Sept. 9, 2016, when it was added to the National Priorities List. The site consists of historic and ongoing releases from mining operations in three drainages: Mineral Creek, Cement Creek and Upper Animas, which converge into the Animas River near Silverton, Colorado. The site includes 35 mines, seven tunnels, four tailings impoundments and two study areas where additional information is needed to evaluate environmental concerns.

In developing this initial list, EPA considered sites that can benefit from Administrator Pruitt’s direct engagement and have identifiable actions to protect human health and the environment. These are sites requiring timely resolution of specific issues to expedite cleanup and redevelopment efforts. The list is designed to spur action at sites where opportunities exist to act quickly and comprehensively. The Administrator will receive regular updates on each of these sites.

The list is intended to be dynamic. Sites will move on and off the list as appropriate. At times, there may be more or fewer sites based on where the Administrator’s attention and focus is most needed. There is no commitment of additional funding associated with a site’s inclusion on the list.

EPA remains dedicated to addressing risks at all Superfund sites, not just those on the list. The Task Force Recommendations are aimed at expediting cleanup at all Superfund sites and Administrator Pruitt has set the expectation that there will be a renewed focus on accelerating work and progress at all Superfund sites across the country.

The Task Force, whose work is ongoing, has five overarching goals:

  • Expediting cleanup and remediation;
  • Reinvigorating cleanup and reuse efforts by potentially responsible parties;
  • Encouraging private investment to facilitate cleanup and reuse;
  • Promoting redevelopment and community revitalization; and
  • Engaging with partners and stakeholders.
  • The Task Force will provide the public with regular updates as it makes progress on the Administrator’s Emphasis list and other Task Force activities.
    The list of sites can be found here: https://www.epa.gov/superfund/superfund-sites-targeted-immediate-intense-action.

    From The Durango Herald (Mary Shinn):

    Many local and national officials saw the listing as the agency fulfilling commitments it made after the EPA in June 2015 released acid mine drainage into the Animas River watershed.

    “That is exactly what was promised to us when we signed up for the National Priority List,” San Juan County Commissioner Pete McKay said of the recent announcement.

    Sens. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, and Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, and Gov. John Hickenlooper also supported the announcement.

    While the list is expected to be dynamic, Benevento said the announcement signified a long-term commitment to the area.

    Inclusion on the list is not a commitment of additional funding, according to a news release. But it does place an obligation on the regional administrator to make sure the project manager has the resources that she needs, Benevento said.

    The EPA is working with Colorado, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to develop a five-year plan for the Bonita Peak area that outlines cleanup activities and remediation objectives, the release said.

    The site includes 35 mines, seven tunnels, four tailings impoundments and two study areas where additional information is needed to evaluate environmental concerns.

    Project Manager Rebecca Thomas expects human health and aquatic risk assessments to be finished in the spring and some cleanup work to start in the summer.

    San Juan County commissioners McCay and Scott Fetchenhier also said some sites could be cleaned up in the short-term.

    “There are a couple sites with tailings that could be cleaned up pretty quickly,” Fetchenhier said.

    McCay said understanding the flows of polluted water in the Gladstone area and how best to mitigate those is an immediate priority.

    From The Washington Post (Brady Dennis):

    The push is part of Administrator Scott Pruitt’s promise to prioritize the decades-old cleanup program, even as the Trump administration shrinks the size and reach of the EPA. The 21 sites highlighted by the agency span the country, from a former tannery site in New Hampshire to a contaminated landfill from the World War II-era Manhattan Project in St. Louis to an abandoned copper mine in Nevada…

    David Konisky, a political scientist at Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, questioned how EPA put together the list of sites it released Friday.

    “I do find the rationale for inclusion on the list to be strange,” Konisky, who has written extensively about the Superfund program, said in an email. “The EPA selected sites based on the ability of the Administrator to help achieve an upcoming milestone or site-specific action. This strikes me as mostly about creating a credit-claiming opportunity for Pruitt, rather than prioritizing additional resources to sites where communities face the most significant health risks.”

    There are more than 1,300 Superfund sites nationwide, some of which have lingered for years on the EPA’s “national priorities list.” While Pruitt has repeatedly spoken about his focus on the program, calling it “vital” and a “cornerstone” of the EPA’s mission, critics have noted that the Trump administration has proposed slashing the Superfund budget by 30 percent. They also worry that a single-minded focus on speeding up the process at particular sites could result in inadequate cleanups…

    “It’s happy talk,” Nancy Loeb, director of the Environmental Advocacy Center at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, told The Washington Post in the summer, noting how funding for the program has shrunk over time. “We have Superfund sites, but we don’t have a super fund.”

    Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter

    Widefield aquifer: Perfluorinated compounds shut down operations at Venetucci Farm

    Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

    From KRDO.com (Colleen Sikora):

    A majority of the Venetucci Farm revenue came from leasing wells on the property to Security Water Sanitation District.

    But that lease has ended, because of perfluorinated compounds have contaminated the water in Security-Widefield.

    “There’s a water remediation plan that needs to come together and we’ve decided we can be part of that solution because the wells to provide drinking water for those communities,” Sam Clark with Pikes Peak Community Foundation, which owns Venetucci Farms, said. “This is essentially kind of an agreement to row together over the next couple of years working on a solution… The consequence of that is we have to make some staff changes and change some of our operations in 2018 and until the remediation plan for the water is implemented.”

    […]

    “This farm is one of the many casualties of this water contamination,” [Susan] Gordon said.

    Summit County reacts to CDPHE decision to delay action on Climax Molydenum’s standard request

    Grays and Torreys, Dillon Reservoir. Photo credit Greg Hobbs.

    From The Summit Daily (Deepan Dutta):

    Officials from CDPHE and the Environmental Protection Agency decided to move a hearing on the proposal from December 12 to November 2019, citing the need for further study of the proposed limit increase on humans and the environment.

    Summit County officials, while welcoming the public health’s delay in making a decision, are standing together against the proposal to allow more molybdenum in Summit’s waterways.

    A group of local stakeholders issued a joint statement opposing the increase before Wednesday’s hearing. Representatives from the Town of Frisco, Copper Mountain Consolidated Metropolitan District, Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, and several other local government bodies stated that Climax’s proposal carried “unacceptable levels of uncertainty and risk” to human and animal health.

    Lane Wyatt, co-director of the NCCG’s Water Quality/Quantity Committee, has been advising local leaders on the molybdenum issue. Wyatt believes the state is prudent in delaying its decision and welcomes Climax’s attempts to be transparent.

    However, Wyatt says the initial research done by independent experts have already shown that high concentrations of molybdenum pose increased risks to human health, and that is enough to consider the molybdenum increase a non-starter.

    Additionally, he sees Climax’s effort to get the state’s approval on increased molybdenum levels as a small foothold for its bigger ambitions to export molybdenum to other places, such as the European Union with its stricter environmental standards.

    “Climax has been a good neighbor to Summit County,” Wyatt says, “but the community does not want to be a guinea pig for fooling around with how much molybdenum is in the water before it becomes a problem.”

    Before the November 2019 hearing, the department of public heath’s water quality commission will hold other limited-scope hearings. One such hearing will take place on January 8 on whether to extend a site-specific temporary modification. The NCCG says it welcomes comments regarding molybdenum, and the public may do so by email at cdphe.wqcc@state.co.us. The commission is requesting all public input by Wednesday, Dec. 27.

    @EPA to drop self-bonding requirements for mining clean ups

    Bonita Mine acid mine drainage. Photo via the Animas River Stakeholders Group.

    From the Associated Press (Matthew Brown) via The Durango Herald:

    President Donald Trump’s administration announced Friday that it won’t require mining companies to prove they have the financial wherewithal to clean up their pollution, despite an industry legacy of abandoned mines that have fouled waterways across the U.S.

    The move came after mining groups and Western-state Republicans pushed back against a proposal under former President Barack Obama to make companies set aside money for future cleanup costs.

    U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said modern mining practices and state and federal rules already in place adequately address the risks from mines that are still operating.

    Requiring more from mining companies was unnecessary, Pruitt said, and “would impose an undue burden on this important sector of the American economy and rural America, where most of these jobs are based.”

    The U.S. mining industry has a long history of abandoning contaminated sites and leaving taxpayers to foot the bill for cleanups. Thousands of shuttered mines leak contaminated water into rivers, streams and other waterways, including hundreds of cases in which the EPA has intervened, sometimes at huge expense.

    The EPA spent $1.1 billion on cleanup work at abandoned hard-rock mining and processing sites across the U.S. from 2010 to 2014.

    Since 1980, at least 52 mines and mine processing sites using modern techniques had spills or other releases of pollution, according to documents released by the EPA last year…

    The Obama-era rule was issued last December under court order after environmental groups sued the government to enforce a long-ignored provision in the 1980 federal Superfund law…

    The proposal applied to hard-rock mining, which includes precious metals, copper, iron, lead and other ores. Coal mines already were required to provide assurances that they’ll pay for cleanups under a 1977 federal law.

    Hard-rock mining companies would have faced a combined $7.1 billion financial obligation under the dropped rule, costing them up to $171 million annually to set aside sufficient funds to pay for future cleanups, according to an EPA analysis.

    @DenverWater estimates $600 million in costs to treat for molybdenum if temp standard is made permanent

    Climax Mine

    From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

    Chronic ingestion of molybdenum can cause diarrhea, stunted growth, infertility, low birth weights and gout

    Colorado health officials on Wednesday ignored state scientists and delayed for two years a decision on a mining giant’s push to weaken statewide limits on molybdenum pollution of streams, including a creek flowing into Dillon Reservoir, Denver’s drinking water supply.

    Denver Water contends that Climax Molybdenum’s campaign to jack up molybdenum pollution limits 43 times higher than at present could cost ratepayers up to $600 million for expansion of a water treatment plant. Trace amounts of molybdenum — below a health advisory level — already flow out of Denver taps.

    But Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials and federal Environmental Protection Agency officials on Wednesday rescheduled a Dec. 12 molybdenum rule hearing for November 2019.

    A CDPHE hearing officer said the delay will allow time for industry-financed studies to move through a peer-review process and for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to make decisions on molybdenum toxicity. A “temporary modification” that currently allows elevated molybdenum pollution from the Climax Mine was extended this year through 2018, and CDPHE officials at Wednesday’s meeting opened the possibility it could be extended again.

    CDPHE scientists opposed the delay. The scientists, Denver Water and a coalition of mountain towns have opposed the push by Climax to allow more molybdenum pollution of Tenmile Creek, which flows down from the Climax Mine above Leadville into Dillon Reservoir, where water flows out through a tunnel to Denver and the upper Colorado River Basin. CDPHE water-quality scientists have determined that molybdenum pollution at the proposed new limits would kill fish and could hurt people…

    Denver Water treatment plants cannot remove molybdenum, and expanding one plant to do that would cost from $480 million to $600 million, utility officials said in documents filed to the CDPHE.

    Those costs ultimately would hit ratepayers, the 1.4 million people who rely on Denver Water for their domestic water supply. The molybdenum pollution from Tenmile Creek that reaches Denver facilities today is “below the human health advisory levels,” Denver Water spokeswoman Stacy Chesney said.

    “We’d likely exceed the human health advisory standard if that (new limit) were to become the statewide water quality standard. … Currently, the concentrations in Tenmile Creek have not been at a high enough concentration that would result in an exceedance of the human health advisory level, so an extension of the ‘temporary modification’ for molybdenum is acceptable,” Chesney said.

    A subsidiary of the $46 billion mining giant Freeport-McMoRan, Climax Molybdenum runs the Climax Mine, which was closed for 25 years and reopened in 2012. This led to elevated molybdenum pollution at levels up to 2,500 ppb, 10 times higher than the current statewide limit. The “temporary modification” granted by CDPHE water commissioners, and extended this year, allows this elevated pollution through December 2018…

    EPA officials recently said a molybdenum pollution limit as high as 10,000 ppb could be sufficient. But EPA scientists previously have advised lower limits.

    “Denver Water’s current position is that the molybdenum limit should be based on scientific evidence. While Climax Molybdenum Company has presented scientific studies in support of its proposed standard, the studies fail to account for the effect high molybdenum concentrations will have on individuals with a copper deficiency,” Chesney said. “Because we do not know how high molybdenum concentrations will affect people with copper deficiencies, and EPA has not modified the Human Health Advisory for molybdenum to correspond with Climax’s proposed standard, the (state water quality control) commission should decline to increase the molybdenum standard to the level proposed by Climax.”

    A coalition of mountain towns also is fighting the proposed higher limits for molybdenum pollution of waterways.

    “Because of scientific uncertainty regarding the effects of varying molybdenum concentrations on human health, the commission should decline to make the changes that Climax Molybdenum Company has proposed in the statewide molybdenum standards,” Frisco attorney Jennifer DiLalla said. “The town’s primary goal is ensuring that any action the commission may take with respect to molydenum standards is protective of the health of those who live and work and play in Frisco.”

    Western Water and Livestock Production: A Destructive Past and Unsustainable Future — University of Denver Water Law Review

    From the University of Denver Water Law Review (Matthew Kilby):

    This panel discussed the destructive impacts of large-scale cattle operations on landscapes and ecosystems. The panel focused on cattle grazing and industrial farming as some of the lead causes of environmental destruction in the American West.

    Josh Osher spoke about the widespread damages caused by cattle grazing. Not only does cattle grazing affect more than two hundred million acres of land in the American West, but it has also contributed to the damage of eighty percent of streams and riparian areas in the region, which he described as “corridors for plant and animal species.” One way cattle destroy riparian areas is through “step-down,” which occurs when cattle walk over streams and incise stream or riverbanks. When cattle destroy banks, water channels become flat, which degrades instream flows and alters stream morphology. This, along with a reduction in water quality, can fundamentally change landscapes and eliminate local plant and animal species. Osher contended that the only way to prevent further degradation of western ecosystems through cattle grazing is to remove the cattle from the land. Once cattle are removed, he argued, lands have shown a surprising resilience and ability to rebound from substantial degradation.

    George Wuerthner discussed how legislators and government agencies have failed to combat the cattle industry. Wuerthner highlighted this failure by exploring the Clean Water Act’s exception that allows industrial agricultural producers to operate without obtaining discharge permits, despite the fact that a single cow can produce up to one hundred pounds of feces in one day. He noted that cattle in Montana produce waste equivalent to a human population of 100 million. In addition to allowing the cattle industry to thrive without necessary environmental regulations, Wuerthner also discussed the disproportionate access the industry has to water. In Nevada for example, the cattle industry only provides some 25,000 jobs but it may take up to eighty-five percent of the state’s water. Wuerthner concluded his segment by imploring the attendees to fight this inequity by eating more fruits and vegetables.

    Last, Julia DeGraw presented on how important it is for society to shift how we use water. To highlight this importance, DeGraw explored two mega-dairy farms, one in operation and the other slated for future operation, near Boardman, Oregon. The groundwater underneath Boardman has long been in decline, yet the combined dairy farms could withdraw an estimated 1.4 million gallons of water a day to support 100,000 cattle. This would not only severely affect local hydrologic conditions, but would also reduce local air and water quality. The cost of beef does not internalize its environmental destruction. To solve this conundrum, DeGraw, like Wuerthner, called on attendees to change their diet to help dismantle the industrial cattle industry.

    Swan River restoration update

    Photo credit: Summit Magazine

    From The Summit Daily News (Jack Queen):

    The Swan hasn’t flowed freely since the dredges chewed up its banks, kept the gold and spat the rocks back out. All of the sand and silt that kept the water out of the ground washed downstream, so the river has quietly gurgled under the rocks for the century since.

    “One way to think of it is like a bathtub full of marbles, and the water is just sort of flowing through those,” Lederer said. “Sometimes you see it on the surface and sometimes you don’t.”

    The Open Space and Trail Department has teamed up with Breckenridge and at least a half-dozen other partners to breathe life back into the Swan. Clearing out all of the marbles is the first step.

    For the past two years, workers have been collecting and milling hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of the gravel and rocks that have been suffocating the river.

    On Wednesday, Nov. 22, crews are set to wrap up another season of work, pulling out more than 43,000 tons of material since July. Over that time, roughly $122,000 in royalties from the sale of that processed material have gone to help offset the cost of the project.

    A big load of the rock from last season was used for the Iron Springs bypass project, an ambitious re-routing of Highway 9 between Breckenridge and Frisco that was finished just weeks ago…

    Last summer, the project liberated one of four sections of the Swan, digging out a channel that now meanders across a wide floodplain.

    “We look at the geometry of the valley as a whole: how wide it is, how steep it is, how big the floodplain is,” Lederer explained. “And looking at these different parameters, we can make an inference into what the channel should look like.”

    This summer, workers planted thousands of willows along the new banks of the Swan to help anchor the river while it stretches it legs for the first time in years. But it’s not stuck in place just yet.

    “We’ve given the stream a lot of flexibility to move across the floodplain,” Lederer said. “It’s able to move a little bit over time, and that’s OK — that’s kind of what we want up there.”

    After a dry start to the season, the area greened up nicely before the first snowfall, a stark contrast to the moonlike surface from just two years ago.

    The stretch that’s flowing, dubbed Reach A, is one of four sections identified for de-dredging. That phase cost around $2.3 million total, provided by a combination of state and local government grants.

    Gravel milling work this summer has taken place upriver on Reach B, and that’s set to continue next summer. Workers need to clear at least 195,000 cubic yards of material before restoration can begin.

    The final two sections, however, are being actively quarried on private land and could take some time to free up for restoration.

    “Everyone in the valley is sort of supportive of this work, but I don’t have a good idea of the timing on anything on private property,” Lederer said. “But ideally, we’ll continue to move upstream as the opportunity allows.”

    From Colorado Summit Magazine (Devon O’Neil):

    Today’s excavator work represents the latest step in a landmark project undertaken by local, state, and federal government agencies, as well as a group of private organizations that share a commitment to undoing the environmental damage inflicted by Summit County’s pioneers.

    “It’s just basically a big mess. There is no real stream, to be honest. There’s no life,” Jason Lederer, an open space and trails resource specialist for Summit County, says while observing the scene last summer. “Our goal is to reintroduce the natural channel to the valley and restore the ecological and environmental value.”

    Lederer watches as the earth mover pulls another few hundred pounds of melted chocolate from its expanding hole. When the restoration effort began, no one had a clue where the river was supposed to go—or where it ran before the dredges turned it upside down in the early 1900s. “We don’t have any pictures, but we can imagine,” Lederer says. Which seems a tad crazy, no? How could you not know where the river flowed as recently as a century ago?

    Such is the legacy of dredge mining—not just in the Swan, but also French Gulch, one drainage south, and anywhere else a dredge ever operated.

    Soon, though, this valley will be transformed, once again through a human touch. As part of a decades-long plan to restore three miles of the Swan, last summer’s work was a major step toward realizing the river’s potential once more. The envisioned final product evokes a page torn from a Colorado scenic calendar: a meandering stream with aspen and juniper on its banks, 10-inch brook trout snapping at your fly, native cutthroat trout flourishing just upstream (for the time being), and more than 130,000 cubic yards of dredge rock crushed and removed from the valley forever.

    As Lederer says, “If we do our job right, nobody will ever know we—or the miners—were here.”

    […]

    The first two dredges began churning up the river bottom in 1898, and two more followed in 1899. The four boats dug as deep as 70 feet, depositing their debris in giant piles next to the disappearing river channel. Before long, the Swan’s three forks—North, Middle, and South—no longer shared a visible confluence, having been driven underground by the mining. All that mattered was the gold. And if no one was making the mining companies clean up their mess, they weren’t about to do it of their own accord.

    Just up the hill and south from where the boats were “flipping the river upside down,” as dredge mining’s impacts are described, the Cashier Mine pumped out ore in Browns Gulch (it remains one of the largest abandoned mines in the county). Workers loaded its waste into carts and scattered it about the valley, alongside the tens of thousands of smooth, round river rocks discarded by the dredge boats. This, of course, only made a bad problem worse.

    What had once been a verdant river became a wasteland. People who have worked on the Swan restoration refer to the river they inherited as a “bathtub of marbles”—essentially a waterway that had been so churned up it no longer had a bottom … or any structure at all. Think of trying to contain water with a screen. That’s what the Swan had become: an underground trickle, dispersed to the brink of dissolution.

    Even as work began last summer, questions remained: Was the river still there? If so, could it be channeled once more? What would it take to bring the ecosystem back to life?

    There weren’t many precedents akin to the Swan, but one local project provided inspiration, and hope. From 2004 to 2006, Summit County government led an effort to restore the Blue River just north of Tiger Road along Highway 9. The 23-acre Four Mile Bridge Open Space, as it became known, turned out beautifully and served as a vital blueprint for the Swan, in that the remediated site was zoned strictly as open space with no concessions for development.

    It took 10 years from when the county and town of Breckenridge began preliminary work on the Swan until the heavy equipment arrived last summer, but by the time operations ceased in mid-November, the progress was striking. They’d rebuilt nearly a mile of stream, including relocating a half mile of channel that had become a muddy ditch along Tiger Road. The reconstructed section of river—“Reach A” as it’s known in the broader plan—includes 22 riffles (minor rapids), glides (calm water stretches), and pools 3 to 6 feet deep, which combine to form optimal fish habitat. The river channel is 25 feet wide to accommodate high flows during spring runoff, anchoring a 65-foot-wide riparian corridor that will be populated this summer with native flora.

    Best of all, the county did not have to line the riverbed to prevent water from seeping into the ground and disappearing. That’s because the Swan River, they discovered, is a “gaining stream” instead of a “losing stream”—that is, groundwater actually rises from the bed and into the river, increasing its flow. You could see this happening just upstream from the excavator last July; clear water spurted out of the gravel like a spring, then gradually coalesced as it moved downhill.

    An uncommon range of backers has funded the restoration, with the largest financial contribution—$975,000—coming from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Summit County added $500,000, the town of Breck gave $300,000, Colorado Parks and Wildlife anted in $184,000, and the US Forest Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service combined to donate $250,000. Also part of the mix: the Blue River Watershed Group and Trout Unlimited’s Gore Range Anglers Chapter, which works to protect, preserve, and restore coldwater fisheries. “This project hits every aspect of our mission,” says chapter president Greg Hardy.