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Local partners improving water quality in the Upper Slate River Basin

Daisy Mine and Gunsight next up for reclamation

Any day now the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition (CCWC) will receive final approval of its Upper Slate River Watershed Plan, a comprehensive document intended to guide efforts to improve local water quality.


The coalition submitted the plan to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Halloween this year. Even though the document is pending final approval, on-the-ground work has already begun.
“Our watershed plan is unique in that while we were writing the plan, our partners had already identified projects in the Upper Slate River Watershed we wanted to address,” said Zach Vaughter, executive director of the CCWC.
The CCWC works with partners such as the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety and the Bureau of Land Management. The Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety completed one project—filling a drill hole in Redwell Basin—nearly a year before the coalition submitted the final plan to the state.
“It’s really cool because a lot of times with watershed planning you get the grants to write the actual plan and then identify the projects,” Vaughter continued. “We already had projects identified and were working to write them into the plan.”
The Upper Slate River Watershed encompasses about 34 square miles of the Slate River Valley, extending north from Crested Butte and including the Slate River, Poverty Gulch, Redwell Creek, and Oh Be Joyful Creek. According to a summary of the watershed plan, the area includes 71 miles of streams and rivers.
Twenty percent of water quality data collected in the watershed exceeded standards. Redwell Creek and the nearby Daisy Mine site accounted for 75 percent of those excedences. Oh Be Joyful Creek accounted for 10 percent, and another 10 percent was found in the Slate River below Oh Be Joyful Creek. The take-home message? Eighty-five percent of measured excedences came from Redwell Basin.
The plan identifies three major sources of impairment in that basin: The drill hole filled in 2013, which was created during the 1970s as part of an effort to characterize the molybdenum deposit under Mt. Emmons; the Daisy Mine, which operated as late as the 1970s and once produced silver, copper and zinc; and the Red Well, a naturally occurring spring that is estimated to be 2,800 years old.
According to Vaughter, preliminary monitoring data suggests that filling the drill hole has already reduced the contaminants flowing into Redwell Creek. “We only filled it last October [in 2013], just before snow fell. We’d like to have more than one season of monitoring data under our belts but so far the data we have collected suggests pretty big improvements in water quality,” Vaughter said.
Moving forward, the watershed plan will guide the CCWC and its partners through a number of additional measures to correct impairments. One of the bigger projects is the reclamation of the Daisy Mine.
“It’s pretty large in scale, so over the next year or so we will be planning and trying to raise funds to develop reclamation plans and then implement them,” Vaughter said.
The partners will also work on the Gunsight mill site at the intersection of the Lower Loop trail and the GB Loop. It’s believed to have been a mill for the Daisy Mine, and the coalition has been working with the BLM and the Division of Reclamation and Mining Safety to develop a clean-up plan.
“We collected water quality data from the site this past summer in July, and that gave us a better understanding of seasonal springs, groundwater, and how water moves across the site,” Vaughter said.
“We still have some things to look at in terms of what the plan will look like,” he continued, “but we’re hesitant to do removal because it would require going over the Slate River with trucks. The thought is to do cap and cover, and bury it on site with a barrier so it can’t leach and it’s not mobilized during snow melt or during rain events.”
Improving water quality in the Upper Slate River Watershed is a new focus for the CCWC. When the coalition formed in 2003, it focused on the Coal Creek Watershed. However, in 2011 the organization expanded its reach to include the Upper Slate River because it also had a history of hard rock mining and exhibited similar impairments.
But Vaughter is clear that the progress the coalition has already made in the Upper Slate River Watershed wouldn’t have been possible without its partners.
“I attribute that to the great project partners we have and the relationships we have been able to develop, “ he said. “There has been momentum from everyone, including ourselves, to do some good work in the Upper Slate and tackle projects sooner than anticipated.”
A draft of the plan is available on the CCWC website,, and will be replaced with the final draft once it is approved by the state.

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