Historic mining in our mountains, and on Red Lady in particular, has left a legacy of acid mine drainage in the Upper Gunnison Basin. In our own backyard, the Standard Mine, which is now a Superfund site, and the acid mine drainage from the Historic Keystone Mine are two examples of this legacy. In fact, it was not even that long ago that Coal Creek itself ran orange. As a community we have made significant progress towards restoring Coal Creek―but there is still much work to be done! High Country Conservation Advocates is working with other local stakeholders to guard against the impacts of acid mine drainage from the Historic Keystone Mine on Red Lady.

As we shared in November, HCCA has been involved as a party to hearings with the Water Quality Control Commission (Commission) that are designed to oversee implementation of a study plan. The study plan was designed to determine the source of heavy metal contaminants in the Coal Creek Watershed. In the fall of 2012, the Commission directed U.S. Energy to develop a sampling plan that would resolve the uncertainty over metal loading sources in Coal Creek. Part of this process involves determining what portion of the metals loading is attributable to the historic mining activities. U.S. Energy is required to provide an annual report to the Division on its implementation and findings.

During the most recent hearing last December, HCCA identified two major concerns regarding U.S. Energy’s implementation of the Study Plan. First, HCCA noted the need for a predetermined process for addressing proposed changes to the study plan. Our concern was that by failing to have such a procedure in place, U.S. Energy had been able to unilaterally decide not to comply with certain components of the study plan.  As a result, at least two data sampling sets (out of a six) have been missed.

We also encouraged the State’s Water Quality Control Division (Division) to adopt a robust review process for analyzing the data collected and used during the study plan process. This is 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.  HCCA asked that the Division adopt timelines for which it will review, analyze, and make its independent conclusions regarding U.S. Energy’s annual reports and the associated data. We also asked that this reports be made public.

Because of HCCA’s requests, the Division offered to adopt a process that involves greater transparency and stakeholder involvement during the implementation of the study plan. The Division is now hosting a series of calls between U.S. Energy and local stakeholders. These calls facilitate conversation regarding the robustness and completeness of data as well as the methods used to analyze this data. This process is a step in the right direction of achieving the goal of the study plan and establishing standards that are protective of the Coal Creek Watershed.



Coal Creek circa 1980 ORANGE from mine tailings contamination.