As a headwaters community with our own legacy of acid mine drainage just west of town on Mt. Emmons (or Red Lady), the recent spill of over 3 million gallons of sludge from the Gold King mine into the Animas River truly hits home.

Watching the surreal orange and yellow contamination wind through southwest Colorado evokes flashbacks to when Coal Creek, the pulse of Crested Butte, ran orange.  Although we’ve made great progress in cleaning up Coal Creek, our drinking water, community, and local economy are still vulnerable to the negative impacts of acid mine drainage.

Recently we’ve also been reminded of our vulnerability as we’ve watched the company that owns the mineral interests on Red Lady―U.S. Energy Corp.―struggle financially.  U.S. Energy’s three-decade old water treatment plant treats acid mine drainage that would otherwise drain into Coal Creek.  Yet, there’s no financial assurance guaranteeing that the nearly $2 million per year operation will continue uninterrupted.  At the same time, Coal Creek still does not meet water quality standards for cadmium, zinc, lead, and arsenic.


Before and after: Coal Creek of the past, running orange pre-water treatment plant and before tailings were prohibited from being dumped directly into Coal Creek, and Coal Creek today.

This is why High Country Conservation Advocates’ (HCCA’s) Save Red Lady campaign is dedicated to a permanent community supported mine-free solution and proactive efforts that address historic mining’s impacts on our headwaters.  Until there is no longer a vested interest in the mineral deposits on Red Lady, there is a real and pressing threat to our clean water, tourism and ranching based economy, as well as our quality of life. 

Today, I am asking you to support our Save Red Lady fundraising goal of $50,000 by donating to our Red Lady Defense Fund.  Already, inspired community members have donated $34,000.  With your generous support, we can continue to ramp up our efforts addressing the impacts of historic mining in our watershed.  A donation to the Red Lady Defense Fund guarantees that 100% of your donation goes directly to this campaign.

Our Save Red Lady campaign is funded solely by generous community members like you.  Will you help us raise the remaining $16,000 so we can reach our $50,000 goal? 


HCCA has been the sole advocacy organization for 38 years that is working to keep Red Lady mine-free and guarantee our water quality is guarded from the negative impacts of acid mine drainage.  We do this work by:

  • Retaining highly trained and specialized staff and experts;
  • Collaborating with local stakeholders;
  • Advocating at the town, county, state, and federal levels;
  • Engaging in state and federal processes; and
  • Litigating, where appropriate.

A majestic Red Lady sunset

We also collaborate with top lawyers and organizations across the nation pushing for legislative reform of the outdated 1872 Mining Law.  With your tax-deductible donation we can continue these efforts, including our two-pronged approach to protect our water quality from acid mine drainage: bonding and water quality standards.


Maintaining Coal Creek’s water quality depends on the continual operation of a water treatment plant owned and operated by U.S. Energy.  This plant treats acid mine drainage from the historic Keystone Mine workings at a rate of 250-300 gallons per day.  Prior to construction of the water treatment plant, this contaminated water was discharged directly into Coal Creek.  Now U.S. Energy spends nearly $2 million a year to operate this water treatment plant.  Yet, as of June 30, 2015, the company had only $4.1 million in cash and cash equivalents.

Our community deserves assurance―regardless of the financial state of the owner and operator―that the water treatment plant will continue to operate without interruption.

Neither the Forest Service―which manages the land the water treatment plant is on―nor the State―which administers the discharge permit for the treated water―has in place a bond insuring this water will continue to be treated.

Can I count on your invaluable donation to the Red Lady Defense Fund so HCCA can continue pursuing a bond that will guarantee this water treatment plant will operate without interruption?


Long-time supporters, Al and Kate Vogel, summiting Red Lady during last year’s Save Red Lady hike

Water Quality

For over two decades the State has allowed temporary modifications for discharges from U.S. Energy’s water treatment plant so that the plant can discharge water with higher levels  of contaminants than what would otherwise allowed under state standards.  Temporary modifications are meant to be used only for a handful of years until a discharger (U.S. Energy in this instance) can determine how or whether they will be able to comply with more stringent standards.

To put in place permanent standards, HCCA collaborates with local stakeholders to engage in state hearing processes where we advocate for stricter discharge standards and enhanced water quality standards for Coal Creek.  In this process, we advocate for the application of fair process, sound science, and methods so we can ensure that strong, effective, permanent water quality standards will protect our water source from future degradation.

Your generous support will allow us to continue engaging at the state level so we can protect Coal Creek, our drinking watershed and the pulse of Crested Butte.


Coal Creek today, running through Totem Pole Park in Crested Butte

Our Save Red Lady Campaign is working towards:

  • A permanent mine-free solution;
  • Pursuing bonding so the water treatment plant runs without interruption; and,
  • Ensuring strong water quality standards will be adopted for Coal Creek.

With your help, we can meet our campaign goal of $50,000 and together work to keep Red Lady mine-free while proactively addressing the legacy of acid mine drainage in our watershed.


Please send your donation today. I hope I can count on your charitable contribution to our Red Lady Defense Fund.  To learn more about our Save Red Lady campaign click HERE.

Allison N. Melton
Public Lands Director

P.S. I hope you will help us reach our fundraising goal so we can continue our work to protect water quality and move us ever closer to a community-supported permanent mine-free solution.  Help us Save Red Lady today!