Although it might be common knowledge that there are heavy metals in the Coal Creek Watershed, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact source of these contaminants. What part of the metal loading is caused by mining activities? What part is naturally occurring? If it’s a combination of natural and manmade sources, what’s the breakdown between the different sources? In the fall of 2012, the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission directed U.S. Energy to develop a sampling plan that would resolve these uncertainties. A three-year Study Plan was approved and finalized with the Commission, HCCA, and other involved parties. Each year, U.S. Energy is required provide an annual report on its implementation and findings. We are currently half-way through this three year plan and in the middle of the Commission’s reviewing process for the second year. So far, there are two major issues that have cropped up that we’re working to address.

 

First, there needs to be a predetermined process for addressing proposed changes to the Study Plan. This has become a rather large issue, as U.S. Energy decided not to comply with certain components of the agreed upon Study Plan. At least two data sampling sets (out of six) have been missed and HCCA is concerned that the location of an important monitoring well may not be sufficient to provide the necessary data to meet the stated purposes of the Study Plan. To avoid such issues in the future, we’re encouraging the Commission to adopt a predetermined process that will notify all interested parties of proposed changes to the Study Plan, and should a party deem it necessary, provide a hearing process.

 

We’re also encouraging the Commission to adopt a robust review process for analyzing the data collected and used during the Study Plan process. This is especially important because such data will likely be used for making a final determination on what metal loads are manmade and reversible versus those that are irreversible or naturally-occurring. We’ve asked that the Commission adopt timelines for which it will review, analyze, and make its independent conclusions regarding U.S. Energy’s annual reports and associated data available to the public. We’ve also encouraged the Commission to use additional information to assist with its independent conclusions, such as data and information collected from U.S. Geological Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Coal Creek Watershed Coalition.

 

A predetermined process for addressing proposed changes and a more robust review process should result in final conclusions that will provide us needed information on Coal Creek watershed’s metal contents and allow the State to set protective standards for this important watershed.