Autumn 2020 Updates on Mine Remediation

In July and September 2020, Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership (UWP) staff collected high and low-flow water quality samples and flow measurements from Governor Creek to characterize pre-project water quality conditions for our Governor Basin Project. The results along with existing information will be used in the project assessment and approval process, supervised by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). UWP and our partners, including Ouray Silver Mines Inc. (OSMI), continue to collaborate on design and approval for the project that addresses impacts of legacy mining at the Terrible and Virginius Mines.

Another legacy mining-related project that has moved forward this year is the Atlas Mill Tailings Remediation. OSMI and Trout Unlimited (TU) are working on this project that is approximately an 8-acre footprint with 4.7 acres of contamination present in the form of legacy waste rock and tailings from the former Atlas Mill Site up County Road 361 above Ouray. With UWP only supporting planning efforts as needed, project partners include the USFS and EPA.

A Good Samaritan Administrative Order on Consent (AOC) was needed as the legal binding approval document between TU (Good Sam) and the USFS. The process to develop the AOC took over eight months and will be a good template for UWP and others to work on future projects in the watershed. John Reams Construction, out of Naturita, was the selected contractor and is working at the site with TU. The general scope will involve installation of three drainage controls with drainage fans along the top and bottom sections of the consolidated tailings and waste piles, streambank stabilization and waste removal along Sneffels Creek (UWP completed work immediately upstream of the current work site from 2015-2017), as well as revegetation through grading, consolidation, and amending of contaminated waste rock and tailings.

UWP and partners also led a tour of the Upper Uncompahgre Watershed in early September, during a visit by new staff from the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) section of the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE). The TMDL section develops information that is used to establish permit limits for point source discharges and clean-up goals for non-point sources. Led by staff from UWP, the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, and OSMI, this on-the-ground experience helped the CDPHE staff better understand the Uncompahgre River, its tributaries, historic mine sites, and unique natural features. This will be important as the agency reviews water quality and flow data to develop TMDLs for this watershed. Like they always say, you gotta see it to believe it!