What’s happening in the water world? Check out our latest “Headwater Headlines” to learn more about HCCA’s latest water quality updates. Photo: Lydia Stern
Cool Streams for Cutthroat
When we think of protecting water quality, we typically think of cleaning up abandoned mines or reducing nutrient and sediment loading in our streams. Another issue for consideration is maintaining stream temperatures that are protective of aquatic life. Stream temperature is regulated by the Clean Water Act. In Colorado, the Water Quality Control Division (the “Division”) and the Water Quality Control Commission (the “Commission”) implement the Clean Water Act through the state rulemaking process.
In June 2017, High Country Conservation Advocates joined together with the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD) and the Northwest Colorado Council of Colorado Governments Water Quality and Quantity Committee (QQ) and to engage in a rulemaking hearing where the Division was proposing revised stream temperature standards. Prior to the hearing, local parties provided the Division with stream temperature data. Together, we urged the Division to revise stream temperature standards only where there is sufficient temperature data. We also provided suggestions on how the Division could improve their stream temperature analysis, and suggested that they use a longer period of record, additional fisheries information, a classification of upstream conditions, and consideration of seasonal transition standards to capture changes in stream temperatures between the various seasons. The parties also weighed in on two local site-specific proposals for the Slate River and Tomichi Creek. Moving forward, we’ll continue to collaborate with the Division and other local stakeholders to provide local data to inform proposed standard revisions.
Red Lady Update
MEMC Agrees to Stricter Regulation of Heavy Metals Loading for Coal Creek
At the same June 2017 hearing, the Commission addressed heavy metals standards for Coal Creek. For years, mining companies that have owned the wastewater treatment plant on Mount Emmons have struggled to comply with Clean Water Act regulations that determine the amount of heavy metals that the plant can discharge into Coal Creek. The companies have relied on a legal tool called a “temporary modification” to enable them to discharge according to less stringent standards. Temporary modifications may be granted when a discharger is working towards compliance with regular standards while improving treatment abilities or seeking to resolve uncertainty about the source of contaminants. Mining companies have held temporary modifications to Coal Creek water standards for two and a half decades.
HCCA, the Town of Crested Butte, and Coal Creek Watershed Coalition have advocated revising or eliminating the temporary modifications for the past five years. At the hearing in June 2017, Mount Emmons Mining Company (MEMC) agreed to eliminate the temporary modifications from July to March. MEMC also voluntarily adopted a compliance schedule to resolve cadmium compliance issues in the discharge to Coal Creek. This was a significant display of good-faith by MEMC and another step towards resolving heavy metals impairment in Coal Creek. During the process, the parties demonstrated that Coal Creek meets the standards used to protect aquatic life from July to March. This is fantastic news! In the coming years, the stakeholder group, led by MEMC, will work to establish appropriate standards for April to June and complete projects to reduce pollution from the historic Keystone Mine.