Summit river tainted by spill from truck wreck
SUMMIT COUNTY ” For the second time in 11 days, one of the High Country’s normally pristine mountain streams was marred by a toxic spill, with potentially deadly consequences for fish.
The latest spill ocurred Friday morning at about 4 a.m., when an eastbound tractor trailer spilled about 400 gallons of what is suspected to be car wash concentrate into the North Fork, about a mile uphill of Arapahoe Basin Ski Area.
Despite a quick response by local emergency crews, some of the liquid drained into the stream, turning it the same bright and poisonous-looking rusty-orange color as the Blue River on April 17, when heavy metal-laden water poured out of an abandoned mine near Breckenridge.
In both cases, officials said there was no apparent significant risk to human health.
“The good news is that the spill is going into the North Fork downstream of both our snowmaking intake and our domestic water supply,” A-Basin general manager Alan Henceroth said Friday morning.
He did say the road closure had an effect on A-Basin’s business. Loveland Pass was closed and expected to stay closed the whole day, according to Lake Dillon Fire Rescue Deputy Chief Jeff Berino.
Colorado State Patrol Capt. Ron Prater said a variety of charges are being considered against the driver, who was not seriously injured in the wreck. The truck, headed uphill, fell on its side on the outside of the first sharp hairpin curve above A-Basin, where crews piled berms of sand to prevent further contamination of the stream.
Prater said that, every time there’s a truck accident on the pass, there’s pressure to change the hazardous material route. Truckers would rather drive their loads through the relatively straight Eisenhower Tunnel. But the State Patrol, with jurisdiction over hazardous cargo, would rather keep the route going over Loveland Pass, Prater said.
Additional containment measures were taken at several other points downstream, in hopes of limiting the spread of the liquid, which is lighter than water and thus spreads across the surface, much like an oil slick.
Berino was hopeful that the containment booms placed on the surface of the stream would be able to capture at least some of the spill, but said that turbulence in the stream would carry some of the spilled material past the booms.
By 10 a.m. Friday, the discoloration was visible as far downstream as Keystone, near the junction of Highway 6 and Montezuma Road.
Berino said the cleanup would likely be a “high dollar” effort, considering the extent of wetlands involved. He said other smalller-scale cleanups in the same general area have cost between $10,000 and $50,000.
When crews first arrived on the scene, the bright orange liquid was visibly leaking from the truck, which carried most of the required placards to identify the cargo, according to Berino.
About 40 people responded to the scene, said Steve Skuski, spokesman for Lake Dillon Fire Rescue. After determining that the liquid was not particularly toxic, crews immediately began cleanup efforts, he said.
Below A-Basin, the North Fork sustains a healthy brook trout fishery in a series of beaver ponds. Populations of endangered boreal toads also live in some of those ponds. It wasn’t clear how much those animals could be affected by the spill.
“It’s a waiting game at this point,” said Shannon Schwab, one of the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s district managers for Summit County. Schwab said that EPA officials were on their way to the scene Friday to try to establish the toxicity of the liquid to aquatic life.
She said she will be examining the river and the beaver ponds in the coming days to look for dead fish, and encouraged anglers and hikers in the area to do the same. Dead fish can be reported to the Colorado Division of Wildlife at (970) 262-9316 or (970) 468-5848.