State delays hearingon river’s purity |

State delays hearingon river’s purity

Cliff Thompson

MINTURN -A hearing by state water officials set for next week to help determine how much metal pollution from the defunct Eagle Mine should be in the Eagle River has been delayed until December.The hearing of the state Water Quality Control Commission would have set zinc and other dissolved metal levels that harm aquatic life in the river. In the mid-1980s the mine ceased operating as did treatment of metals-polluted mine water. That pollution killed all aquatic life in the river from Gilman to Dowd Junction, and resulted in the Environmental Protection Agency designating the mine and river a Superfund cleanup.One of the factors that delayed the hearing was uncertainty over the cause of a 30 percent decline last year in the number of brown trout surveyed by biologists, said Caroline Bradford of the watchdog Eagle River Watershed Council. Brown trout, biologists said, are harmed by dissolved zinc in amounts as small as 250 parts per billion or the equivalent of 25 cents out of $1 million.”The delay gives us more time to study the data and agree on what caused it,” she said.During the seven year-long cleanup of the mine which ended in 2002, the state adopted less stringent water quality standards for the river that allow higher levels of dissolved metals. Those standards will expire in February, 2006.Mine owner Viacom wants the temporary standards to become permanent while Bradford and others want to see stricter standards.Viacom attorney Hank Ipsen said having a later hearing date will allow this year’s fish survey, which will be conducted in April, to be studied prior to setting pollution levels.The zinc level and other dissolved metals in the river vary according to the flow of the river and the amount of rain or meltwater that flows over the area. The Eagle Mine operated for nearly 100 years before mining ceased in 1984.Viacom operates a water treatment plant south of Minturn that removes pollution from the mine, which is flooded by natural springs.Since the cleanup has concluded, the number of brown trout in the river has approached those found in non-polluted stretches of the river. Biologists like John Woodling, who conducts the annual fish counts, called the cleanup a “spectacular success.”When zinc pollution is present in water, Woodling said, trout are smaller than those in non-polluted stretches of the river.Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or, Colorado

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