Water group to ask state for consistent water standards
BRECKENRIDGE – The Summit Water Quality Committee will ask state water officials to set attainable water quality standards for parts of French Creek and the Blue River that reflect standards the Environmental Protection Agency recently recommended.It’s all part of the county’s and town of Breckenridge’s “due diligence,” which the two are conducting to determine the extent of environmental liability associated with the purchase of 1,840 acres of B&B Mines property northeast of Breckenridge in the Golden Horseshoe. The town and the county are splitting the cost of the $9 million deal and expect to close in June 2004.The town and the county want to identify the measures necessary to address the environmental problems left by the extensive mining conducted on the B&B properties. Part of that is ensuring that the water flowing through French Gulch to the Blue River meets state standards for water cleanliness.According to county Open Space and Trails Director Todd Robertson, the state administers the Clean Water Act, which ensures that all waters are swimmable and fishable. But what’s good for the flat, loamy lands in southeastern Colorado doesn’t always apply to alpine waterways in the High Country.”The waterways in Summit County need to have different minimal standards than what the state and nation have,” said County Commissioner Bill Wallace. “We are naturally a metal-rich environment, so it’s only natural that the water running off the hill is going to be loaded. We’re asking for the standards to be more appropriate to the region so when we clean them up to a level where aquatic life can be sustained, those levels will be deemed appropriate.”The discrepancy lies in the differences used by the federal and state agencies, Robertson said.At issue are the acceptable levels of heavy metals – notably zinc, but also cadmium and manganese – in French Creek from just above the Wellington-Oro Mine to the confluence of the Blue River, and from there to the confluence of the Blue and Swan rivers near Gold Hill.The EPA, for example, set a goal for zinc levels in the Blue River not to exceed 225 parts per billion (ppb) as part of a plan to remediate impacts from the Wellington-Oro Mine. To make the state standards reflect the goals the EPA identified, site-specific information needs to be submitted to the state, said Brian Lorch, open space and trails resource specialist.A scientific study, called a Use Attainability Analysis (UAA), is underway and considers factors unique to this area, including the naturally metal-laden mineralogy. This report indicates that a zinc level of 259 ppb is the maximum level at which no effect will occur to the fishery. The UAA is a tool that could allow the state to set water quality standards that are different from those used in other waterways.According to the EPA’s Victor Ketellapper, who has been working with a grassroots group to clean up the water in French Creek, the purpose of the UAA is to develop standards consistent with the Clean Water Act and Superfund goals for the Blue River and French Creek.”We want to get the federal and state regulators on the same page in terms of water-quality standards for the river,” Robertson said. “Instead of pushing the question, “How clean is clean?’ we should ask if these standards are realistic given the baseline natural conditions, plus the human-caused conditions over the past 150 years. We don’t have a natural stream channel in the Blue River.”Once the state and federal water agencies agree to one standard, it will be easier for the town and county to ensure heavy-metal levels stay at a level low enough to sustain fish.”The state needs this information so they know it will meet the Clean Water Act requirements for cold-water aquatic habitat,” Lorch said. “They want to know what has the potential to exist there given the whole range of values based on biology, physical characteristics and elevation.”County commissioners and Breckenridge town officials agreed Monday to endorse the Summit Water Quality Committee’s request to the state to permit the standards change. A hearing will be held this summer.Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or email@example.com.
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