Town watching Coal Creek study

Keeping an eye on results from water study

by Mark Reaman

Crested Butte will ask the state to allow the town to be directly involved in the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission’s proceedings dealing with Coal Creek and temporary modifications currently in place.

The request for so-called “Party Status” comes at the request of the Coal Creek Watershed Coalition (CCWC). Coalition board president Steve Glazer came to the council Monday, September 21 with the request.

Temporary modifications of in-stream water quality standards have been in place for Lower Coal Creek for more than 20 years. Those standards are reviewed every three years by the state.

At the 2012 hearing, the state required U.S. Energy, the mining company responsible for the potential molybdenum mine and current water treatment plant on Mt. Emmons, to develop a study plan to address uncertainty regarding pollution sources impacting Coal Creek. Data collection from the study will culminate this year.

The Water Quality Control Commission is set to review the temporary modifications and evaluate progress on the study. Glazer feels the process will likely be continued into 2016 and may include new rule-making involving new standards for Coal Creek.

Given the town’s inherent interest in the watershed, CCWC felt it appropriate to have the town participate.

“The Water Quality Control Commission required U.S. Energy to develop a water quality monitoring program,” explained Glazer. “U.S. Energy was a year-and-a-half late in establishing a groundwater monitoring well. So we expect the company to ask for a year extension. We are inclined to support that request so we too can analyze the data. We are asking the town to get involved. It is in the best interest of the citizens.”

CCWC’s technical coordinator, Ashley Bembenek, added that the outcome directly affects Crested Butte. “It is definitely in the town’s best interest,” she said. “The thoroughness of the study matters to the town. There are pollution concerns that groundwater could be impacting the town’s drinking water supply. The bottom line is that the town has a stake in Coal Creek with things like recreation and drinking water.”

“Why wouldn’t we do this?” asked councilman Skip Berkshire.

“It buys you a ticket to the dance,” said town public works director Rodney Due.

All seven council members wanted to dance so they agreed to apply for “Party Status” in the proceedings. They anticipate the move will cost the town between $5,000 and $10,000 in legal fees.

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