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Anglers concerned about zinc levels

LINDA BALOUGH
Special to the Daily/Linda Balough Area fishermen worry that existing world class fishing in Park County will be compromised by relaxation of standards of zinc in water coming from the London Mine near Alma. Zinc content now is well above state standards and proponents of new permit allowances pledge to improve water quality, not cause more harm.
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FAIRPLAY – Fishermen are concerned that an effort by a Denver-Brighton developer to raise zinc content in rivers could affect fishing in Mosquito Creek and the Middle Fork of the South Platte River. The developer, THF Realty, wants to obtain a water permit to raise the zinc content in water flowing from the London Mine, located part way up Mosquito Gulch on London Mountain near Alma. The South Mosquito and No Name creeks, fed by water from the mine, eventually drain into the Mosquito Creek and the Middle Fork of the South Platte River.John Woodling, a spokesperson for Trout Unlimited, said that zinc is toxic to fish, and if there is too much, it will hurt the aquatic life in the streams fed by the water coming from the inactive gold mine. “Even existing standards don’t protect all aquatic life; the mayfly is affected by as little as 49 parts per billion,” he said. None of the existing or proposed concentrations of zinc pose a health threat to humans. According to Jerry Raisch, attorney for the owner of the London Mine, the standard for human consumption is 5,000 parts per billion (ppb) of zinc in water.On Monday, the Water Quality Commission in Denver delayed a decision on whether to issue a water quality permit allowing a higher than standard amount of zinc in the mine water.

History of water ownershipIn the 1980s, during an exploration joint venture that included one of the Coors family members, water from the Water Tunnel was permitted for as much as 580 ppb zinc on a so-called temporary basis. At the close of that joint venture, the permit ceased and the water rights became the property of mine owner Ben Wright, who sold those rights to THF Realty. The developer must get a permit to use the water from the Water Tunnel and, if the standard permit is issued, it would require zinc to be reduced to between 120 and 138 parts per billion.The developer asked the Water Quality Control Commission to grant a zinc limit of 640 ppb (it later lowered the request to 280 ppb) on the water from the Water Tunnel in return for the money to continue operation of a small treatment plant built by the Colorado Department of Minerals and Geology on the Extension Tunnel.

The treatment plant is an experimental operation designed to lower the extremely high zinc levels (reportedly as high as 42,000 ppb) coming from the Extension Tunnel, but the department only has funding for operation until October of this year. Citizens speak upIn a hearing on July 7, the Park County commissioners heard a number of the same people ask the board to send a letter to the water quality commission in opposition to a new permit with lower than state standards. The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) declined, saying it did not want to prejudice any future actions in the matter on which the board might have to rule. Eddie Kockman, a 27-year employee of aquatic resources of the Colorado Division of Wildlife and a Park County property owner, told the BOCC that he felt it had a big responsibility to encourage fishing programs and should insist that the water from the mine be kept to current standards.

However, water coming from the mine has historically been much higher than those standards. Two tunnels in the expansive London Mine carry water flowing from the depths of the mines. One, the Extension Tunnel, is high on the mountain and has emitted a high percentage of zinc for many years, which eventually flows into South Mosquito and No Name creeks. The other, the Water Tunnel, has a higher flow of water and less concentration of zinc. However, neither meet ideal stream standards.In testimony before the water quality commission on Monday, Park County resident Richard Hamilton asked the commission to consider having the developer fund the continuous operation of the treatment plant to determine exactly what level of zinc reduction could be achieved and only then to set firm permit allowances. The commission gave THF Realty until Wednesday to present a revised proposal for temporary zinc standards and for the funding to operate the treatment plant, and until July 28 for other parties to respond to that proposal. The next meeting of the Water Quality Control Commission will be Aug. 9. Raisch said that the mine owner, developer, water quality control officials, representatives from the Division of Wildlife and others are all working together to try to improve the water, not to make it worse.


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