We are excited to share one of our recent wins in our continuing effort to protect Coal Creek, the stream that flows through the heart of Crested Butte. Beginning in January 2015, High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA) will be increasing our involvement in a three-year study plan seeking to identify natural and human-induced sources of metal pollution in Coal Creek. The end goal of this study is to collect data necessary to establish protective site-specific water quality standards on the lower portion of Coal Creek for cadmium, copper, and zinc.

Our increased involvement is a result of our participation in a State Water Quality Control Commission hearing held on December 8, 2014. At this hearing, HCCA participated as a party and offered suggestions for a more involved public process during the study plan’s implementation. The purpose of the hearing was to evaluate U.S. Energy’s progress in implementing a study plan in the Coal Creek watershed. Coal Creek Watershed Coalition (CCWC) also offered suggestions to improve the technical analysis and groundwater monitoring provisions of the study.

Although all the hearing parties generally agreed that the study plan had been implemented as directed, HCCA, as well as the Colorado Water Quality Control Division (WQCD) and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), raised concerns about U.S. Energy’s unilateral change to the study plan, which resulted in a one-and-a-half year delay in implementing the groundwater monitoring well.

From HCCA’s perspective, this delay has two important implications. First, it goes to the heart of the study plan’s objective, which is to understand the potential effect the historic Keystone Mine workings may have on Coal Creek. Second, the delay has meant that three of the data gathering incidents (of a total of six) are missing.

At the hearing, HCCA advocated for increased communication among stakeholders to prevent future unilateral changes that might affect the integrity of the study plan. Such communication can also assist with preparing for the final hearing that will be held in December 2015, and seek to establish water quality standards on Coal Creek. CCWC’s independent, comprehensive, and robust water quality data analysis was also cited by the WQCD and CPW. CCWC’s analysis set the groundwork for the Commission’s recommendation that U.S. Energy’s future analysis use the same methods as CCWC.

As a result of HCCA’s and CCWC’s efforts, the WQCD will facilitate meetings throughout 2015 and use the same methods as CCWC when it is time to analyze data for the December 2015 hearing. Looking into 2015, this means HCCA’s efforts to protect Coal Creek water quality will be ramped up as we advocate for transparent data analysis techniques and independent analysis of collected data.

Support our efforts to protect Coal Creek’s water quality with a year-end tax deductible donation to HCCA!