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Environment: Bulkhead a big step in Peru Creek cleanup

All-out remediation effort targets acid mine drainage near Keystone Ski Area

Remediation work in progress at the Pennsylvania Mine site in Summit County, Colorado. Photo via Snake River Watershed Task Force.

Remediation work in progress at the Pennsylvania Mine site in Summit County, Colorado. Photo via Snake River Watershed Task Force.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — For decades, the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine has been oozing heavy metals — zinc, manganese, cadmium, lead and and arsenic — into the waters of Peru Creek, a small tributary of the Snake River near Keystone, Colorado. The site has been the focus of intensive study during the past 15 years with the goal of improving water quality downstream.

Last week, engineers and environmental experts took a big step toward trying to staunch that flow by blocking one of the mine tunnels. If all goes well, the new bulkhead could reduce the direct discharge from the mine by about two-thirds, said Jeff Graves, a remediation expert with the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety.

Graves explained that the new plug should force the water back into its natural underground pathways, trickling and percolating down through layers of rock and earth, and not as prone to the oxidation that’s key in the formation of acid mine drainage. Essentially, the work will restore the groundwater flow to more natural, pre-mining conditions, he said. Continue reading

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Morning photo: Luminosity II

More Snake River scenes

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Ice on the Snake River glows as if from within in this early morning shot processed with an iPhone Instagram filter.

FRISCO — I just can’t get enough of the early morning mists along the Snake River, one of the only local streams that hasn’t frozen completely solid in the cold weather of recent days. I’m pretty sure the only reason there’s still some open water in the Snake is because of the “extra” water that’s flowing from out of the Robert’s Tunnel down toward Keystone Ski Area’s snowmaking intake valves, and that fluctuating flow has created a wonderland of ice terraces and frozen falls. The water also adds moisture to the air, enabling the frost to form on riverside willow shrubs, trees and grasses. Continue reading

Morning photo: Winter manifests …

Winter’s frozen fingers drape across the land

Ice at the edge of Dillon Reservoir near Frisco, Colorado.

FRISCO —Absent a big snowfall, winter’s onset is marked by the formation of ice in the nooks and crannies of locals streams and ponds. It’s a process that’s more subtle than just waking up one morning to several feet of new snow. The ice creeps from the edges of the water, curling and crinkling with the wind or currents, slowly but sure encroaching on the open water. It’s a fun process to watch, with visible day-to-day changes, and it’s especially apparent during the relatively dry months of late fall and early winter. The past few days, I sought out spots along the shore of Dillon Reservoir and a shady Snake River canyon to watch the transformation.

A hint or early morning sun gleams into the shadows of this forested reach of the Snake River, near Keystone, Colorado. Continue reading

Morning photo: Ice and frost

In lieu of snow …

Morning frost and sun.

FRISCO — Went for a bit of a wander along the Snake River between Keystone and Montezuma this morning after hearing that Keystone is facing some challenges with regard to stream flows and the water it uses from the Roberts Tunnel for snowmaking. When I parked near the Blight Placer, I was greeted by an early winter wonderland of frost on the willow wetlands near the river, as well as some stunning ice formations on the rocks in the shady canyon. All in all, a satisfying photo trek. In the evening, I went hunting for more ice reflections in the shallows near Heaton Bay. Continue reading

Global warming may be upping Snake River metals pollution

Study reports fourfold increases in levels of zinc in the Upper Snake River

Scientists have measured huge increases in concentrations of zinc in Deer Creek, near Montezuma, Colorado. Bob Berwyn photo.

Lower water levels resulting from earlier snowmelt may leave streamside rocks exposed to weathering for longer periods of time, resulting in increasing concentrations of metals in Colorado streams like the Snake River. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Even without significant impacts from abandoned mines or other human activities, concentrations of heavy metals in the upper Snake River have increased by as much 400 percent in recent decades, with potentially serious consequences in a watershed that, in certain reaches, is already deadly to aquatic bugs and trout.

The also study illustrates the potential for comparable increases of metals in similar Western watersheds, said USGS scientist Andrew Todd, lead researcher on the project.

The observed spike in metals sent researchers on a quest to try and figure why levels of zinc and other metals are increasing so dramatically in the small headwaters streams above Montezuma, Colorado. Concentrations of zinc, for example, have increased fourfold in the past 30 years.

By default, they think global warming may be a significant factor.

“This is a really undisturbed watershed as far as anything that might change the water chemistry,” said USGS scientist Andy Manning. “It’s really important to be clear about the conclusions. What we found is that the concentrations are going up. Then we laid out some hypotheses, and the cause appears to be climate warming, in general,” Manning said. Continue reading

Morning photo: Snake River

Such a fine line between water and ice!

On the cusp of winter ...

SUMMIT COUNTY — After dropping the boys off at Keystone to let them work off the turkey and pumpkin pie, I headed up a short distance along Montezuma Road, pulling over in one of the dispersed camping areas to let the dogs out for some lightly supervised play time. It’s one of my favorite areas to take photos; the weird luminescence of the water comes partly from the high levels of toxic heavy metals in the stream. It’s pretty, but toxic to trout and other aquatic critters. But never mind, it’s still a great place to shoot, and the in-between-ness of the seasons heightened the drama — not to mention the very cool ice formations on some of the rocks. Continue reading

Summit County: Slow going on abandoned mine cleanup

Drilling, along with laser and sonar probes, planned at Pennsylvania Mine this summer

Toxic metals oozing from the abandoned Pennsylvania mine pollute the waters of Peru Creek and the Snake River far downstream. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Research at the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine, high in the Peru Creek drainage, will go deeper than ever before this year, as state experts prepare to drill underground to try and get a better handle on how water moves through the tunnels of the mine and the fissures of the surrounding mountain.

The work at the mine is expected to cost between $450,000 and $800,000, according to a recent update from the Snake River Watershed Task Force. Specific projects include laser and sonar surveys in the mine workings, as well as visual inspections with a borehole camera. Continue reading

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