The Eagle River goes muddy for a day
eagle county correspondent
MINTURN ” The chocolate brown water flowed down the Eagle River 11 miles until it reached Gore Creek.
It takes a lot of mud to make the river look so murky for such a long stretch, says water activist Caroline Bradford, who noticed the brown water on Tuesday. Apparently, it came from a wood hauling operation at the Ginn development near Minturn, seeped into Willow Creek, into Turkey Creek and finally into the Eagle River.
“In May, all the rivers get a little cloudy from runoff, but the rivers can handle that,” Bradford said. “It’s just when super-concentrated muddy water goes into a stream, it can’t handle it.”
Bradford filed a complaint with Eagle County code enforcement. The Ginn Company, which is planning a private ski resort south of Minturn, quickly cleaned up the muddy pollution and is figuring out to prevent it from happening again, spokesman Cliff Thompson said.
“The retention structures we had weren’t adequate,” Thompson said. “Our engineers are reviewing how to make them better.”
Excess mud in a river is never a good thing, Bradford said.
When sediment builds up, it smothers insects and makes it difficult for trout to spawn. Too much sludge can also raise water temperatures, which fish also hate.
That’s why there are strict regulations on how construction sites should prevent water pollution.
Any project taking up at least an acre is required to develop a plan outlining exactly how river pollution will be prevented, Bradford said.
This can include building sediment ponds, straw bales and silt fences, all things that stop mud before it gets to the river. Regular inspections and maintenance are also required, and there can be big fines when developers don’t hold up their end of the bargain.
“No sediment at all should be reaching the water,” said Lauren Brinker, a code enforcement officer for the county. “That’s state law.”
The Ginn Company has been clearing beetle-killed pine trees off the hillsides and taking them to lumber mills, and that set the stage for the mud spill.
“When you do that, you get some wear on the land, and it’s not without impacts,” Thompson said.
Add in some rain, some snowmelt and a couple trucks hauling wood, and you have mud falling in the river.
Thompson said they use sediment traps like ponds, straw bales and silt fences at the site, but they just didn’t cut it this time. Work has stopped in that area until they figure out how to improve the sediment traps.
“I think this demonstrated we need some redundancy ” if one goes out, maybe you need two or three or four behind it,” Thompson said.
The complaint is still being reviewed by Eagle County code enforcement, Brinker said.
Bradford said it’s the time of year when construction takes over the valley, and contractors need to remember to contain their sites.
“It’s not only wrong and bad for the river, but it’s illegal to let mud into the waters,” Bradford said
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