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Blue River is back to blue

Bob Berwyn
Summit Daily/Kristin Skvorc
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BRECKENRIDGE – Orange drainage from the abandoned Iron Spring mine and mill site subsided Monday evening, a day after the normally pristine Blue River turned the color of carrot juice.”There seems to be only a slight bit of discoloration,” said town spokeswoman Kim DiLallo.

Monday morning, a pulse of water from the old mine site surged down the Illinois Creek drainage along Boreas Pass Road, causing the Blue River to run bright orange for most of the day. Local officials took water samples to determine whether there was a discharge of metals, and Tom Kroening, of the Colorado Division of Wildlife, searched the stream for signs of dead fish.Kroening scoured the river again Tuesday, and received the first reports of dead fish in the late afternoon.”I had two calls within 15 minutes,” he said. A total of three dead fish were reported, all in the vicinity of the Dredge Restaurant, he said. Kroening will try to recover the fish from the pond and get them tested to figure out why they died – whether of exposure to toxic metals or from a lack of oxygen due to Monday’s turbid water.”It’s possible that (other) fish died and that we just aren’t finding them,” he said, explaining that scavenging raccoons could take the dead trout during the night. “I would expect that if it was toxic, and I’m not saying it was, that we wouldn’t have as high a mortality as a month from now when the river is stocked (with fish).”

There was no threat to the town’s water supply, which originates in Goose Pasture Tarn, above the spill on a different tributary.The sudden discharge may have occurred when a snow and ice dam blocking a mine entrance gave way. That dam could have contained huge amounts of water during the winter, water that historically has seeped out of the mine in a steady trickle. Flows from the many abandoned mine sites around the High Country can vary with the seasons, said Brian Lorch, a county water quality expert. Spring runoff can increase the flows, but spring is not typically the worst time for pollution, since the higher volume of water helps dilute the toxic metals – including zinc, cadmium, arsenic and lead – often associated with acid mine drainage.



There’s not much that can be done in the way of mitigation or containment once such a spill happens, Lorch and other experts said. The spill highlights the for abandoned mine sites, to be cleaned up, said Rob Roberton, Trout Unlimited’s western field coordinator for abandoned mine reclamation. “If this can happen in Summit County, where people are aware and keeping an eye out for this type of thing,” Roberton said, “it can happen anywhere in the West.”Vail, Colorado


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