Orange stain on Blue River in Breckenridge fades as officials watch drinking water |

Orange stain on Blue River in Breckenridge fades as officials watch drinking water

A sign warning people to keep out of the Blue River is posted in downtown Breckenridge by the Riverwalk Center on Sunday after the river was discolored a bright orange on Saturday.
Eli Pace /

The heavy discharge that stained the Blue River a bright, burnt orange on Saturday subsided overnight into early Sunday morning.

Known for its clear waters, the Blue River turned bright orange Saturday with the discoloration blamed on recent precipitation causing runoff from an abandoned mine by Boreas Pass Road and Bright Hope Circle, above the Illinois Gulch area.

The surrounding area is infamous for old mining activity that’s lead to discolorations like this before. In 2006, the Blue River flowed orange and the Iron Spring mill site along Boreas Pass Road, just past the town’s ice rink, was pinpointed as the source of the tainted water.

A warning sign asking people to keep out of the river remained in place by the Riverwalk Center in downtown Breckenridge on Sunday, as rainfall washed the orange water downriver into Dillon Reservoir and helped return the Blue River to a green tint.

“The area was monitored through the day (Sunday) and the runoff issue was not present,” said Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District Chief Jim Keating in a statement. “The area around the Dredge near the Riverwalk Center did have sediment remaining from (Saturday’s) polluting. However, the river was running clear as normal for this time of year.”

One of the biggest concerns following the river’s dramatic change in color this weekend has been about the safety of drinking water supplies, especially with hundreds of thousands of people living on the Front Range relying on Dillon Reservoir. The reservoir is downstream of the orange discharge in the river, but state officials and representatives of Denver Water are both saying that the drinking water should still be safe.

“We continue to monitor the situation along with public health agencies and can assure Denver Water customers their drinking water is safe,” said Todd Hartman, a spokesman for Denver Water, via email. “Mining has been a part of Colorado’s history for more than 150 years and so we are prepared for events like this in our High Country watersheds.”

He explained that because of the size of Dillon Reservoir and the size of Denver Water’s water treatment system overall, events like Saturday’s runoff don’t often lead to “a measurable impact on water quality.” Furthermore, water from Dillon Reservoir goes through water treatment plants anyway, which removes contaminants and ensures the water is safe for human consumption.

“We conduct exhaustive testing in accordance with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment guidelines, and those tests show our drinking water is safe and meets or goes beyond federal and state requirements,” Hartman said.

Breckenridge is also safe because the town pulls its drinking water from the Goose Pasture Tarn, a reservoir that’s well upstream of Illinois Gulch.

While the public is being asked to stay out of the river, CDPHE officials say that they are continuing to monitor water quality and have yet to uncover any adverse effects on anyone’s drinking water.

“The department is acting swiftly and coordinating with the Department of Natural Resources; Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety; and local public health agencies,” explained Jill Ryan, executive director of the CDPHE, in a statement.

“State staff have been on scene and water system operators have been notified of the situation,” she continued. “There are no known impacts to drinking water at this time. As always, after being exposed to any wild river, including the Blue River, it’s necessary to wash with soap and water. It’s also never recommended to drink untreated river water.”

According to Red, White & Blue, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the orange runoff reappear in the Blue River with more precipitation and rapidly melting snow.

Summit Daily News reporter Deepan Dutta contributed to this report.