Thompson Divide water quality study under way |

Thompson Divide water quality study under way

CARBONDALE – A water quality monitoring study that’s currently about half completed will provide baseline data in case of contamination from future natural gas drilling activity in the Thompson Divide area west of Carbondale.

The Thompson Divide Coalition (TDC), in cooperation with the Roaring Fork Conservancy, will take a second water sample this week from locations in both the Thompson Creek and Fourmile Creek watersheds. Two more samples will be taken later this year, said Lisa Moreno, TDC campaign director.

Carbondale trustees on Tuesday agreed to fund half of the remaining $13,970 to complete the $79,000 study. An anonymous donor has agreed to match the town’s share, Moreno said.

Other organizations financing the study include the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails Program, the Aspen Skiing Co. Environment Foundation, outdoor gear company Patagonia and the Brown Foundation. A funding request is also before the Colorado River Water Conservation District, Moreno said.

The TDC, which includes area ranchers, recreation and environmental groups, formed in the fall of 2008 in an attempt to protect federal lands in the Thompson Divide area west of Carbondale from oil and gas development.

The group is currently working with mineral leaseholders to retire the existing leases, and is seeking federal legislation to withdraw the area from the future leasing.

“We have talked to the lease holders, and one is willing to talk,” Moreno reported to the Carbondale board. “The other one says it has plans for those leases.”

In the meantime, the group is working to collect baseline water quality data for the watershed to have on hand when and if drilling activity does take place.

“The town of Carbondale and surrounding subdivisions use shallow wells or water directly from the Roaring Fork or Crystal Rivers for their drinking water,” Moreno wrote in her proposal asking for the town’s support. “Thompson Creek supplies clean water for agricultural use, and the overflow drains into the Crystal River.

“Fracking and drilling operations have been known to cause water contamination,” she wrote.

“The primary goal [of the water quality monitoring plan] is to collect data which will provide scientifically valid, legally defensible water-quality baseline,” according to an overview she also provided. “In the event that more intensive drilling and associated activities occur in this area, this data can be used to ascertain, and hold operators accountable for, any degradations that result.”

The sampling will measure such things as the presence of heavy metals, dissolved gases, organic compounds and other quality parameters.

Carbondale trustees voted 4-0, with one trustee abstaining, to put approximately $7,000 toward the study. The money will come out of the town’s water fund.

In addition to the water quality monitoring, Carbondale’s environmental board has been working with Garfield County officials to set up an air-quality monitoring station somewhere in the Carbondale area.

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