The Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership, not Project, would like the opportunity to clarify the objective of the Ouray County Winter Mine Tour that took place on Sunday, March 20, 2011, and our neutrality towards mining. Although we appreciate the event’s coverage by Peter Shelton’s March 24 article “Winter Mine Tour Looks at History and Water Quality,” there are a couple issues to correct.
The UWP is dedicated to understanding the health of the Uncompahgre River. We were created in 2007 when regional groups and concerned citizens applied for a consensus-based watershed plan that details how the land, people, and water interact in the Uncompahgre Watershed. The UWP is an informal, grassroots coalition of local citizens who are working to find local ways to improve and protect water quality of the Uncompahgre River.
An essential part of this plan requires understanding mining’s role on the history, economy, and environment of Ouray County. For this education, we have attended County Commissioner meetings, read local histories, commissioned a comprehensive water quality report, developed a Mining Committee, and hosted two forums that discussed mine history and water quality. We do not support nor advocate against mining. We understand that hardrock mining is a use-by-right in Ouray County and we would like to work with industry to promote environmentally responsible mineral extraction.
One of the greatest successes of the UWP Mine Committee thus far has been meeting with the Newmont Mining Corporation to discuss the Idarado Mine Clean-Up. This meeting of the minds brought mutual understanding of what has been done and is left to do to improve the water quality of Red Mountain Creek. This progress was shared at the Mine Tour, but was left out of the article. It is not a simple “failure” that water quality goals were not met – the geology of Red Mountain Pass is different from Telluride, hence the different results from the remediation work of the late 1990s. Newmont carried out all of its agreed upon remediation actions, which focused on the Treasury Tunnel and Barstow Mine. Now with over 20 years of monitoring and new studies by the US Geological Survey, a Contingency Plan should be made to reach the goal of reducing zinc levels by 50 percent. To be more accurate than saying “80 percent of the problem is from the east side” of Red Mountain Creek, USGS study found sources that account for 83, 72, 70, 69, 64, and 61 percent of the aluminum, iron, arsenic, zinc, copper and cadmium loading.
We are optimistic that Newmont will create a Contingency Plan that will result in measurable improvements to water quality in Red Mountain Creek. The UWP will continue to communicate with Newmont as a liaison for Ouray County, and share its findings with the community. It is education that we esteem as the best mechanism for providing a clean and thriving watershed. So please join us at the Abandoned Mines and Water Quality Conference, April 27, 3-8 p.m., Ouray Community Center, to learn about this more. This event will be hosted in partnership with the Mountain Studies Institute of Silverton and the Colorado Non-Point Source Pollution Program. Thank you.
– Rachel Boothby, Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership