Residents blast pollution rules for Eagle River |

Residents blast pollution rules for Eagle River

Cliff ThompsonVail correspondent

With the Eagle Mine/Eagle River cleanup largely completed, the state is poised to enact water quality standards on the seven-mile stretch of river from Gilman to Dowd Junction that pollution nearly destroyed 10 years ago.But some local water users and river protection organizations think mine owner Viacom and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment may already have agreed in advance on relaxing the standards. Locals say the level of metals polluting the water is still too high, even after the cleanup.The Eagle Mine milled zinc ore until it was closed in 1984. Shortly thereafter, metals-laden mine water began polluting the Eagle River.The new standards proposed by the health department will allow nearly four times more zinc than what is found in nonpolluted streams. By those standards, Viacom would not need to clean the abandoned mine site further, even though trout, one of the species used to judge the health of the river, are extremely sensitive to even minute amounts of zinc. That issue will be the topic of discussion Thursday in Minturn. The health department will hold a hearing to generate a recommendation to the state Water Quality Control Division, which will set the water quality standards in the Eagle River later this year.”We were hoping for a full-blown stakeholder process,” said Steve Bushong, a lawyer who represents Eagle River Water and Sanitation District. “It would appear the state and Viacom have reached a tentative agreement and that the stakeholder process is going to be very limited. We think we should have been involved from the very beginning, and that’s just not the case.”The water district is involved because it costs more to treat contaminated water.Equally troubling, said Caroline Bradford of the watchdog Eagle River Watershed Coalition, is a possible change in the way the water quality will be monitored. If what’s going on in the river isn’t measured it can’t be managed, she said.”Who’s going to do the monitoring?” she said. “Will it be the state or Viacom, and how often, and will we have the biological information on bugs and fish to confirm this new way of setting standards works in the long run?”

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