Mine spill turns Blue River orange | VailDaily.com

Mine spill turns Blue River orange

Bob Berwyn
Brad Odekirk/Summit DailyThe Blue River turned orange Monday as it flowed through Breckenridge. Contaminants from the Iron Springs Mine and Mill site overflowed.

BRECKENRIDGE – Millions of gallons of rust-colored water poured from a mine Monday morning in Breckenridge, coloring parts of the Blue River bright orange.Town officials said there was no immediate known health threat from the surge of orange water, and no threat to the town’s water supply, which comes from Goose Pasture Tarn well upstream of the contamination.

The source of the tainted water was pinpointed at the Iron Spring mill site along Boreas Pass Road, just past the town’s ice rink, which then caused the river to run orange from areas near the Maggie Pond down to the confluence of the Blue and French Gulch.It’s not unusual for water to seep from abandoned mines, especially when snow melts during the spring, but the unusually high flow of water coming from the site was of concern to local officials, who took water samples and looked downstream for dead fish.A prodigious snowfall this winter may have caused the sudden flow. Snow and ice may have dammed the mine entrance, and if that gave way Monday morning, it would have allowed the massive surge of water to flow downstream all at once. Snow banks along the stream were colored orange to a height of about two feet, indicating a sudden surge.

Local residents like Jim O’Hea, a 20-year local, said they’ve never seen the Blue River turn such a vivid color.”I’m on a mission,” O’Hea said. “I’m going upstream to try and find where it’s coming from.”Water quality expert Brian Lorch, a resource specialist with Summit County’s open space department, said it’s hard to know whether there are any immediate water quality concerns without sampling the water to check for the presence of contaminants.Abandoned mines can produce acidic drainage, which can include dissolved metals like zinc, cadmium, arsenic and lead. Some of the metals can be toxic to trout at certain concentrations.

The only way to prevent such an accident is by cleaning up abandoned mines, he said.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado

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