‘Good Samaritan’ provision eases liability for post-remediation pollution
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — For the first time, environmental groups will be able to take advantage of an EPA Good Samaritan provision created in 2007 that’s designed to speed up cleanups of watersheds and fisheries threatened by pollution from abandoned mines.
The cleanup agreement is for Kerber Creek, at the north end of the San Luis Valley, where Trout Unlimited and the EPA have struck a deal that will shield the conservation group from potential liability as it works to clean up mine tilings along a 17-mile stretch of the creek.
The agreement could serve as a model for similar projects in Summit County, especially in the Snake River Basin, where cleanup efforts have been stymied by strict Clean Water Act provisions that shift liability for any pollution releases after a cleanup to the entity that does the work.
The local Blue River Watershed Group, for example, is planning several projects similar to the work being done in the San Luis Valley.
“This is great news—we have been working on this project for years and are glad that the (EPA has provided TU with this additional protection,” said Elizabeth Russell, project manager. “The risk of a release of hazardous waste from the tailings was very minimal, but we are grateful for the agency’s faith in TU to achieve results,” Russell said.
The Kerber Creek project is located at the north end of the San Luis Valley in Colorado. Historic mining along Kerber Creek led to metals pollution and a degraded stream channel, requiring it to be places on the list of Colorado’s most impaired waterways.
Since 2008, Trout Unlimited and its partners have spent more than $1.3 million on restoration efforts along Kerber Creek. Working with the Bureau of Land Management, Colorado’s Nonpoint Source Program, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, and local landowners, the goal is to treat 60 acres of mine tailings using lime, limestone and compost, and to restore the stream for fish and wildlife habitat.
“Thousands of miles of headwater streams in the West are either threatened or dead as a result of historic mining pollution, and without Clean Water Act liability protection, Good Samaritans’ hands are tied,” said Russell. “If they try to treat the draining water to remove metals and improve water quality, they become liable for that water for ever. That’s a risk no entity has yet been willing to take.”
Filed under: Environment, Summit County Colorado Tagged: | abandoned mine cleanups, Clean Water Act, Environment, mining, San Luis Valley, Summit County News, Trout Unlimited, United States Environmental Protection Agency, water quality