UWP participates in remediation projects at legacy mine sites in the Upper Uncompahgre Watershed to address metals loading and acidic mine drainage to streams that do not meet beneficial uses for aquatic life, recreation, water supply and/or agriculture. Consequently they are on EPA’s Clean Water Act’s 303(d) list of impaired waters. Loading from abandoned mines and natural processes results in overall poor water quality in the Upper Uncompahgre Watershed (headwaters to Ridgway Reservoir).
UWP Projects Completed in 2017
Michael Breen Mine: Drainage from a collapsed mine adit discharged across a waste rock pile leaching metals which were a non-point source pollutant to the Uncompahgre River flowing just below the abandoned mine site and Engineer Pass Road. This portion of the Upper Uncompahgre River is listed on the Clean Water Acts 303(d) list of impaired waters for cadmium, copper, zinc and manganese and on Colorado’s Monitoring and Evaluation list for lead. This portion of the Uncompahgre does not support aquatic life.
Vernon Mine: This site contains two draining mine adits that discharge through waste rock piles before flowing into Gray Copper Gulch. The waste rock is in the gulch and as a result leaches significant amounts of copper into the stream. Gray Copper Gulch is on the 303(d) list for copper and on Colorado’s Monitoring and Evaluation list for iron and low pH. The poor water quality does not support aquatic life.
Atlas Mill: The abandoned mill is off Camp Bird road and above Sneffels Creek. Mine tailings from legacy operations had been deposited in the Sneffels Creek floodplain. Erosion of the tailings and runoff during spring snowmelt contribute heavy metals to the stream which is on the 303(d) list for cadmium and zinc and does not support aquatic life.
Atlas Mill Project Planning
In early 2018, Ouray Silver Mines, Inc. (OSMI) asked UWP if we would partner on a proposed project remediating and stabilizing the Atlas Mill and tailings pile above Ouray. This multi-stakeholder project aims to improve water quality in Sneffels Creek downstream of the Atlas Mill. While UWP completed a similar bank stabilization project in this area in
2017, the new project led by Trout Unlimited aims to extend the bank stabilization to further restore the area and improve water quality by reducing heavy metal drainage into the creek. UWP organized a community meeting in Ouray in July to share the project proposal and get public feedback. The response has been positive, and the project was approved by
the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The $350,000 project will be funded partially through the Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) program with a financial penalty paid by OSMI for a water quality violation at the Revenue-Virginius Mine, made by the mine’s previous owners. Nearly half of the remaining project funding will be donated by OSMI.
Governor Basin Project Planning
In the summer of 2018, UWP continued discussions with the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety (DRMS) and Ouray Silver Mines, Inc. (OSMI) about how to use Natural Resource Damages (NRD) Funds from the Idarado Mine consent decree for a restoration project in our watershed. Based on water quality and environmental conditions, conceptual project designs, and potential funding sources, our nonprofit partnered with DRMS
and OSMI to develop a plan for a restoration project in Governor Basin, where waste rock and tailings from the Terrible and Virginius mines leach metals that impair water quality, downgradient aquatic and terrestrial habitat, and watershed health. The goal of the proposed project is to collaborate to restore alpine, riparian and aquatic habitat, and improve water quality in Governor, Sneffels and Canyon creeks. We hope to receive approval for the NRD project funding in 2019, and begin the project by 2020.