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Environment: Ongoing cleanup tackles toxic Peru Creek

July 30 site visit gives public a chance to see progress in $3 million remediation project at abandoned mine in Summit County

November snow and ice along the Snake River, in Summit County, Colorado.

Heavy metal pollution from upstream sources has killed most aquatic life in the Snake River, near Keystone, Colorado. bberwyn photo.

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Staff Report

FRISCO — With recent increases in levels of toxic metals in Peru Creek, the ongoing remediation work at the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine, near Keystone, Colo., takes on an even greater importance in the context of water quality in the Blue River Basin and the Upper Colorado.

The mine, which produced huge amounts of silver 100 years ago, has been pinpointed as one of the main sources of acid mine drainage. Water seeping through the rocky ground trickles into the old mine workings, picks up contaminants along the way, then percolates back into Peru Creek near the head of the beautiful alpine valley.

During the last couple of summers, scientists and engineers have been working to reduce the pollution, and this coming week (July 30) there will be a public field trip to the site, led by Jeff Graves of the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety, as well as other members of the Snake River Task Force. Continue reading

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Colorado lawmakers aim to create a good samaritan program under the Clean Water Act for abandoned mine cleanups

Bipartisan push could speed remediation projects

Pennsylvania Mine, Summit County Colorado.

The abandoned Pennsylvania Mine is the source of heavy metal pollution in Peru Creek and the Snake River. bberwynphoto.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A few months after the EPA unveiled new regulatory guidance for abandoned mine remediation, a bipartisan pair of Colorado lawmakers launched a new push to speed cleanups.

The new law proposed by Senator Mark Udall and Congressman Scott Tipton would give Good Samaritan groups additional binding legal safeguards they need to remediate the sites and clean up tainted streams. There are more than 7,000 abandoned hard rock mine sites located in Colorado and thousands more throughout the West.

“Runoff from abandoned mines throughout Colorado and the West threaten our water quality, wildlife and local economies. This common-sense, bipartisan legislation will further unleash so-called Good Samaritan groups and allow them to help address this problem,” Udall said. Continue reading

Colorado: Peru Creek cleanup to hit high gear

Agencies ready to tackle acid mine drainage at abandoned Pennsylvania Mine

USGS and EPA scientists take earth and water samples below the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine in Summit County, Colorado.

USGS and EPA scientists take earth and water samples below the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine in Summit County, Colorado. Bob Berwyn photo.

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Tainted water at the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine.

By Bob Berwyn

*Extensive Summit Voice coverage of the Pennsylvania Mine is online here.

SUMMIT COUNTY — Nearly a century after miners finished digging millions of dollars worth of silver, lead and zinc out of the Pennsylvania Mine, heavy machinery will once again rumble through the high alpine Peru Creek Valley.

But instead of burrowing deep into the ground to find precious metals, the workers this time will be trying to clean up the big mess left behind when the mine was abandoned. For decades, water coursing through the mine shafts has been dissolving minerals, resulting in acid mine drainage that pollutes Peru Creek and the Snake River. Concentrations of some metals, especially zinc, are high enough to kill trout.

After years of studying the mine, experts with federal and state agencies now say they are ready to try and tackle the pollution. They will provide details on the cleanup plan at the May 29 meeting of the Snake River Watershed Task Force. The public meeting is scheduled from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Keystone Center, 1628 St. John Road, Keystone. Continue reading

Udall visits Summit County to tout new mine cleanup rules

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Pollution from an abandoned mine turned the Blue River bright orange in April 2006. Bob Berwyn photo.

Public event planned Jan. 18 near Breckenridge

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Around the West, there are thousands of abandoned mines polluting streams and killing fish, and many volunteer cleanup efforts have been stymied by strict Clean Water Act liability provisions.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) for years has been working with the EPA to try and make it easier for Good Samaritan groups to tackle remediation projects without taking on responsibility for future pollution. Those efforts showed results in December, when the EPA issued new guidance specifying that Good Samaritans are generally not responsible for obtaining a Clean Water Act permit during or after a successful cleanup conducted according to a Good Samaritan agreement with EPA. Read the memo here.

Udall will be in Summit County Friday (Jan. 18) along with EPA Regional Administrator Jim Martin to discuss the new policy and the public is invited to attend the event, set for 11 a.m. at the Iron Springs Mill off Boreas Pass Road. Continue reading

Environment: EPA guidance to aid abandoned mine cleanups

Good Samaritan groups to get better protection from Clean Water Act liability

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Efforts to clean up toxic heavy metal pollution at the abandoned Pennsylvania mine site in Summit County, Colorado, could get a boost from new EPA guidance that gives Good Samaritan groups some degree of protection from Clean Water Act liability. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — New guidance from top EPA officials could speed remediation of abandoned Colorado mine sites by clarifying the terms of cleanup agreements between the federal agency and Good Samaritan groups.

The memo from EPA national headquarters to the agency’s regional offices extends the legal liability protections in cleanup agreements and specifies that Good Samaritans are generally not responsible for obtaining a Clean Water Act permit during or after a successful cleanup conducted according to a Good Samaritan agreement with EPA. Read the memo here.

The complex structure of the Clean Water Act has, in some cases, prevented community groups from proceeding with cleanups because of concerns over future liability for pollution. Continue reading

Colorado: Pennsylvania Mine cleanup moves ahead

Experts will enter the mine to develop a long-term remediation plan

Pennsylvania Mine, Summit County Colorado.

The abandoned Pennsylvania Mine is the source of heavy metal pollution in Peru Creek and the Snake River.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — For the second time in a century, heavy machinery will rumble high into the Peru Creek drainage — but this time, the bulldozers, loaders and trucks will be be there to try and clean up some of the mess left behind as toxic legacy of the mining era.

Local officials say the work planned this summer at the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine is a major step in  the ongoing exploration of the mine to investigate sources of heavy metal-laden waters draining from the mine and to improve water quality in Peru Creek and the Snake River, where concentrations of heavy metals like cadmium and zinc are high enough to kill trout and impair other aquatic life.

“We are very optimistic that, after years of collaborative work, we have reached the point where we can now enter the mine to identify potential mechanisms to reduce the acid mine drainage impacting aquatic habitat in Peru Creek,” said Summit County Open Space and Trails director Brian Lorch.

Visit the Snake River Watershed Taskforce online to see a compilation of the research to-date. Continue reading

Colorado: Partial mine cleanup at Sts. John this summer

Abandoned mine cleanup planned to reduce toxic heavy metals loading

Toxic devastation at the abandoned Saints John Mine in Summit County, Colorado.

Sterile ponds below the abandoned Saints John Mine.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — As the first hard rock silver mine in Colorado, the Saints John Mine, above Montezuma, helped fuel the state’s rush to riches during what’s now a legendary era.

But inevitably, the mines played out and the miners moved on. leaving behind a toxic legacy that’s not unique to Saints John. Across the West, thousands of streams and lakes suffered a similar fate.

Beautiful as Saints John Creek may look, it’s heavily polluted with cadmium, copper, lead and zinc that leaches into the water from weathered waste rock and from the underground workings of the former mine. Continue reading

Colorado: Kerber Creek cleanup gets $50K boost

Mining damage in the Kerber Creek watershed.

Collaborative cleanup team makes progress on remediation of mine waste in Saguache County

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY —The cleanup of Kerber Creek, in the Rio Grande headwaters of Saguache County, got a big boost this month with $50,000 grant from the Commission for Environmental Cooperation that will help with the next phase of improving water quality in a stream that’s long been tainted by acid mine drainage.

Historic mine tailings have washed down through Kerber Creek and are contributing metals and acid drainage into the waterway. The groups involved in the exemplary cleanup effort have already treated about 62 acres, mostly by phytostabilization — using limestone and compost to create habitat for metals-tolerant native plants along the creek. Continue reading

Sen. Udall seeks to ease Good Samaritan mine cleanups

The abandoned Pennsylvannia Mine in Summit County, Colorado, is a significant source of pollution. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

Colorado lawmaker tries to rally support on Senate floor; asks EPA for relief

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Sen. Mark Udall last week renewed his efforts to find ways to enable Good Samaritans to clean up some of the many abandoned mine sites scattered around Colorado and the West.

In addition to trying to rally political support with a speech on the Senate floor, Udall sent a letter to the EPA asking for a change in policy that would give Good Samaritans some legal certainty when it comes to the liability for cleanup efforts. Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado and Barbara Boxer of California also signed the letter.

Certain legal hooks in the Clean Water Act make it challenging for volunteers, so Udall is looking for ways that would enable Good Samaritans to clean up those contaminated sites without assuming full legal liability for contamination they did not create. Continue reading

Colorado: New report IDs rivers tainted by acid rock drainage

High mountain streams not always as pristine as they appear

Rocks around the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine show the characteristic red discoloration associated with acid mine drainage.

Peru Creek above the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The Snake River, flowing from headwaters in the mountains high above Keystone, is one of several streams in Colorado that’s been identified as being affected by naturally occurring acid rock drainage.

The new report from the Colorado Geological Survey looks at streams in eleven different headwater areas of Colorado where surface water is acidic and has high concentrations of metals upstream of any significant human impacts.

Frequently, acid rock drainage from natural sources and mine sites combine to cause severe downstream water quality problems. In these situations it is important to distinguish the natural, or background, water quality so that realistic clean- up goals for water quality can be set.

Peru Creek and the Snake River are a perfect example of this combination. The abandoned Pennsylvania Mine is thought to contribute a significant amount of acid mine drainage to water that is already tainted. As a result, the water downstream is toxic to trout and other aquatic organisms. Various agencies and groups have been wrestling with cleanup scenarios for decades. Continue reading

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