It1s all about the trout |

It1s all about the trout

Veronica Whitney
Lori Martin measures Tuesday brown and brook trout along the banks of the Eagle River near Minturn. The results will help establish the health of the river.

As 15 people waded down the Eagle River at the Viacom Superfund testing site in and around MInturn Tuesday, John Woodling, state biologist for the Division of Wildlife, examined a brown trout that had been tagged in 1997.3This is a great sign, he said, passing the trout to an assistant to take the fish1s measurements. 3This trout is probably 10 years old and it1s in good shape. This shows the river is in much better shape.The trout came from the Bishop Gulch testing site, south of Minturn, where personnel of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Viacom1s consultants are doing the yearly spring fish sampling this week to get data on how the Eagle River is doing.Cleaning up the Eagle Mine site, which discharged massive amounts of minerals into the Eagle River, began in 1989 when Gulf & Western, now Viacom, the former owner of the Eagle Mine1s Belden facilities below Gilman, negotiated a settlement with the state and the EPA to clean up the mine and acidic and metals-laden tailings piles it left behind. Acidic leaching from the mine and tailings essentially killed a seven-mile stretch of river upstream from the confluence of the Eagle River and Gore Creek.OA whole bunch nicer1When he first came to the valley to assess the health of the Eagle River in 1990, Woodling found that the some of the snow on the slopes of Vail Mountain was pink because some of the water used to make snow containted a lot of dissolved metals.Twelve years later, and with the ongoing Superfund cleanup of the Eagle Mine site almost over, Woodling said, he1s ecstatic with the rebound of the brown trout population in the Eagle River near Minturn.3We1re at 92 points<over 100, he told 40 people gathered on Monday at Minturn Town Hall for the annual report on the river. 3The Eagle River is a whole bunch nicer than in 1990.When this year1s fish sampling started Tuesday, Woodling had a smile on his face as his assistants captured more fish. The trout, which are netted from the water after being stunned by electroshocking, are then counted, identified<some carry tags from previous years<measured, weighed and fixed with a number tag.3So far, we1ve found lots of fish, significantly more than last year, Woodling said.Trout comebackIn just three hours, 450 fish were located at two test sites near Minturn. At one of the sites, the count increased from 210 last year to 240 this year<a 14 percent increase.3We knew already that the levels of zinc were lower this year, Woodling said. 3On March 6 we took the levels of zinc in the river and they were the lowest they had ever been for the beginning of March.In 2001, the improving trends of previous years reversed and the brown trout population decreased at all mine sites because of increased zinc concentrations in the river in 2000. Zinc has a detrimental effect on brown trout.3Everybody is pleased with the numbers. I1m happy that there are fish in the river, said Caroline Bradford, executive director of the Eagle River Watershed Council, a group that1s monitoring the cleanup.At the meeting Monday, Woodling presented the 2001 river data, which showed a continuous improvement in brown trout population in the river near Minturn in the past six years.3If you are serious about a clean river, there are other problems to be addressed, he said. 3There1s a penalty to be paid for the amount of development in this area and that is urban runoff.Bradford agrees with Woodling that the river also is harmed with non-point-source pollution, which both say is increasing as the area grows.3The mine site used to be the main source of the degradation of the river, Bradford said. 3Now it1s urbanization of the river valley, which is polluting the waters.The health of the riverThe presentation also marked the beginning of a 30-day comment period for a proposed 3biological criteria agreement between Viacom, EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.The biological health measures, which will be reviewed, are those to which the health department1s Hazardous Materials team, the DOW and Viacom have tentatively agreed.3The process will set water-quality standards for the river, said Wendy Naugle, the health department1s project manager for the Eagle Mine site. Once the biological community is determined to be healthy, water quality standards can be set.3The real story is what1s going to make the river better, Bradford said. 3Viacom has done a good job and spent millions of dollars, but it1s still not a showcase river.3We need the water treatment plant at the mine in perpetuity, she added.Viacom has made improvements to prevent more pollution from reaching into the river<one of them was putting a water treatment plant.3We expect to keep the water treatment plan and maintain the pipes in the foreseeable future, said Jeff Groy, an attorney for Viacom. 3Now that the cleanup is done, we have long-term maintenance ahead.Groy wouldn1t disclose Monday how much money the company has spent cleaning up the river, but 3it1s been in the tens of millions of dollars, he said.The state also has an additional $3 million to spend on the river after the cleanup is finished. Those funds came from a lawsuit the state settled with Viacom in which the company agreed to pay $1.7 million<an amount that has increased with interest over the past decade. The money will be spent on restoration projects after the EPA declares the river cleaned.Jane Feldman of the state attorney general1s office said that by the end of the summer she would be sending out requests for proposals. Several public meetings and periods for public comment will follow. The Watershed Council hopes that Eagle County residents will share their ideas for restoration projects.3We expect to start awarding the funds in early 2003, she said.The funds could be used for projects, such as habitat restoration, creation of wetlands or purchase of open space, Feldman said.Public comment? Public comments on proposed measures of biological health will be accepted by the Department of Public health and Environment and EPA1s Denver regional office through April 30.Those comments can be mailed to Wendy Naugle, state project manager, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, HMWMD-B2, 4300 Cherry Creek Drive South, Denver, CO 80246-1530, or e-mailed to Naugle at Comments can also be mailed to Gene Taylor, EPA project manager, 80EA, 999 18th St., Denver, Co 80202-2405, or e-mailed to Taylor at For printed information on the proposed biological criteria, call Caroline Bradford of the Eagle River Watershed Council at 827-4203 or contact her at

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