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Water tests to be conducted

Aspen Times Staff Report

Water testing will be done next spring to determine whether drainage from the Ruby Mine is contaminating the Roaring Fork River.

Miles upstream from Grizzly Reservoir, on Lincoln Creek, an orange stain runs the length of the hillside from the mine to the creek bed, where the rocks are also stained orange. Tom Dunlop, director of environmental health for Pitkin County, said the stain could easily be harmless iron oxide, but there is a chance that less benign chemicals leached from the rock could be entering the stream.

A series of tests will be done next spring, checking the water for contaminants. Samples will be taken from two sites above the reservoir, another from Grizzly Reservoir and an additional one from the sediment in the bottom of the reservoir.

The water will be tested for acidity, lead, zinc, arsenic, mercury, copper and perhaps other materials.

The idea of testing the water came up nearly a year ago when Dunlop met with representatives of the Independence Pass Foundation, the Ruedi Water and Power Authority and the Roaring Fork Conservancy. Their original conversation was about excessive releases of water from Grizzly Reservoir that were scouring the banks of the upper Roaring Fork River and uprooting trees along the river.

Independence Pass Foundation member Bob Lewis suggested at that time that these sudden releases might be carrying significant amounts of contaminants from the mine into the river. Others present agreed that preliminary testing should be done just to be certain, and a tentative plan was made to do the testing this year.

But it didn’t happen, Dunlop said, because no money was budgeted and no staff time was available. So Dunlop is asking the county for partial funding in advance, to get the ball rolling.

“The approach I’m taking for 2001 is to get the budget part of it first,” he said. Asking for partial funding was intended to shake loose funding from local nonprofits, spreading the cost around.

Ideally, the sampling would be done in spring, summer and fall. But if the spring testing doesn’t reveal any pollutants, further testing won’t be necessary.

Dunlop said the Roaring Fork Conservancy is able to take the lead on the collection of samples, and the Colorado Division of Wildlife has a laboratory which might be able to analyze the samples.

The presence of aquatic life, including insects and fish, may or may not indicate a stream is clean. Some organisms are much less sensitive to pollutants than others, he said.

Dunlop said he’s not going to rush to the conclusion that the stream is contaminated.

“Before I jump on board and say that’s acidic,” Dunlop said, “we need to do some tests.” He said he’s cautious about jumping to a conclusion partly because of the years he and others spent trying to convince the Environmental Protection Agency that Smuggler Trailer Park wasn’t contaminated enough to warrant a Superfund cleanup.


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