MINTURN, Colorado - A leak in a pipeline taking mine waste between the Eagle Mine and its wastewater treatment plant near Minturn turned part of the Eagle River green Wednesday.
Red Cliff resident Amanda Gleason noticed the discoloration in the river Wednesday morning - "it was 'Grinch that Stole Christmas' green," she said - and called the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to report it at about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday.
By late Wednesday afternoon, state and local officials, working with representatives of CBS, which is the company responsible for the cleanup at the Eagle Mine, were working to get the leak under control. In addition, extensive water quality testing was under way from the mine site miles down river.
But as of Wednesday afternoon, officials said they weren't sure how long the pipe had been leaking, or how much untreated mine waste had gotten into the river.
An e-mailed statement from a CBS spokesperson read: "When water treatment personnel discovered the failure of a plug in a clean-out port of the pipeline this morning, immediate action was taken to stop the leak, shutting down the pipeline and notifying the EPA, the state and other requisite parties. The leak was stopped and we are in the process of repairing the pipeline and working with the state to sample river water and assess the impact to the river."
Those impacts were still unknown as of Wednesday afternoon.
Warren Smith, the community involvement manager in the hazardous materials and waste management division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said water quality testing would be done for both human use and the fish in the river.
Smith said department officials know the mine waste is acidic. Too much acidity in water can kill both young and adult trout. But, Smith said, it's still unknown how acidic the mine waste in the pipeline is, or how much untreated waste might be harmful to fish populations.
The Eagle River Water and Sanitation District is responsible for water quality for human users. District spokeswoman Diane Johnson said the district's water treatment plants in Avon and Edwards both shut off their river intakes Wednesday, and won't re-open them until the spill's effects on water quality, if any, are known. But, Johnson said, that's fairly standard practice for the district, which can draw water for the entire district from either wells in Edwards, Gore Creek in Vail, or both.
"We operate with an abundance of caution," Johnson said, adding that anything that happens upstream from the treatment plants will shut down the river intakes until officials are sure the water can be safely treated and sent on its way.
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.