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Water Quality Standards for the Eagle River

Water Quality Control Commission to review Standards in November 2013 and June 2014.
Water Quality Standards for the Eagle River will be reviewed by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission in a rule making hearing scheduled for June 2014. Prior to that hearing, and issues formulation hearing will be conducted November 4, 2013 in Frisco, Colorado. For detailed specific information, see: http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite?c=Page&childpagename=CDPHE-WQCC%2FCBONLayout&cid=1251590851421&pagename=CBONWrapper

Current Water Quality Standards set in 2009.
Water Quality in the Eagle River below the Eagle Mine is impaired by high levels of zinc, copper, and cadmium, which impair aquatic life. Currently the River from Redcliff to the confluence with Gore Creek and through the Eagle Mine Site supports a Brown Trout population which is somewhat impaired by concentrations of these heavy metals. Water quality in this reach does not meet the table value standards for Cold Water Aquatic life (Class 1) set by the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission with regard to these heavy metals. As a result, sculpin do not inhabit the Eagle River from Belden downstream to the confluence with Gore Creek. Very few rainbow trout are found in this same river reach.

Considerable progress has been made since designation of the Eagle Mine as an EPA Superfund Site in 1984. In 1984, the River below the mine did not support a fishery. Work since that time, including stabilization of mine waste and tailings and the construction of a water treatment facility for mine drainage, has resulted in a much cleaner river. Now, the River supports a slightly impaired Brown Trout population.

On June 9, 2008 the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission held a Public Rulemaking Hearing to reconsider water quality standards in the Colorado River basin, including the Eagle River. Several parties, including CBS (the current owner of the mine), Ginn Development, the Town of Minturn, Eagle River Water Users, ERWC - Eagle Mine Ltd. and the Eagle River Watershed Council participated in the hearing. The focus of participation by these groups was on segments 5a, 5b, 5c, and 7b of the Eagle River. These segments are affected by the mining in the vicinity of the Superfund site. These segments include the Eagle River from the Eagle Mine at Belden to the confluence with Gore Creek.

The adopted standards for the Eagle River are summarized below. These standards will be finalized at the July Commission meeting

Eagle River Segment 2. This is the Eagle River mainstem and all tributaries upstream of Belden, Colorado and the Eagle Mine Site.

The Commission adopted "Table Value Standards" for all metals except zinc. The Commission adopted a special zinc standard designed to protect sculpin. Sculpin are the most sensitive species for which zinc toxicity are available.

The segment will not meet the sculpin standard just upstream of Belden. This means the segment will go on the 303d list for impaired waters. A program must be adopted to bring the lower end of the site into compliance. The Colorado Water Quality Control Division made this proposal and was supported by the Commission. This step will result in a removal of more zinc from the Eagle River.

Eagle River Segment 5a. This is the Eagle River mainstem from Belden to Tigiwon Road.

The Commission adopted the proposal brought forward by Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division (HAZMAT) for cadmium, copper and zinc.

The cadmium standard is based on a new arithmetic analysis of existing toxicity data.

The copper standard is a recalculation of a copper standard based on the Tubifex worm as the most sensitive species.

The zinc standard is a recalculation of a zinc standard based on the rainbow trout as the most sensitive species in the database. This standard will not protect rainbow trout but will protect brown trout to some degree.

Eagle River Segment 5b. This is the Eagle River mainstem from Tigiwon Road to the south end of Minturn, Colorado.

The Commission mostly adopted the proposal brought forward by Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division (HAZMAT) for cadmium, copper and zinc with one exception. The Commission also adopted a seasonal standard for zinc.

The cadmium standard is based on a new arithmetic analysis of existing toxicity data.

The copper standard is a recalculation of a copper standard based on the most sensitive mayfly the most sensitive species.

The Commission adopted a seasonal zinc standard for this segment. The standard during the months of January through April is a recalculation of a zinc standard based on the rainbow trout as the most sensitive species in the database. This standard will not protect rainbow trout but will protect brown trout to some degree. The standard for the rest of the year (May through December) is a recalculation based on the sculpin and the most sensitive species. This standard will not protect sculpin but does protect the brown trout.

The concept of a seasonal standard was presented and supported by Eagle Mine Limited. This seasonal standard will help protect the success of the remedy to this date.

Eagle River Segment 5c. This is the Eagle River mainstem from the south end of Minturn, Colorado to the confluence with Gore Creek.

The Commission adopted the proposal brought forward by Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division (HAZMAT) for cadmium, copper and zinc.

The cadmium standard is based on a new arithmetic analysis of existing toxicity data.

The copper standard is a recalculation of a copper standard based on the most sensitive mayfly the most sensitive species.

The Commission adopted a zinc standard for this segment based on a recalculation of the database based on the sculpin and the most sensitive species. This standard will not protect sculpin but does protect the brown trout.

Currently all the standards described above are approve provisionally. Final approval comes at a later meeting. This delay allows for mistakes to be corrected.

The water quality standards adopted by the Commission will be a pertinent issue in the 5 year review of Superfund Site activities. In this review, CBS, as a responsible party, and the Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division will attempt to arrive at an agreement that defines the future cleanup that will be required. Through the negotiations, the Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division seeks further cleanup activities that is expected to result in a reduction of zinc loading to the River of between 37 and 43 pounds per day. Current zinc loading is approximately 120 pounds per day, thus the proposed further action will likely cause a 33% reduction. While this level of reduction will certainly cause an improved aquatic environment and healthier brown trout population, it is not expected that water quality will be improved to the extent necessary for the Eagle River to support a healthy Rainbow Trout population in the reach between the Eagle Mine and Gore Creek.

Location Map of Stream Segments prepared by ERM for the WQCC hearing

Download the slide presentation prepared by John Wooding Ph.D. on how zinc concentrations in the River affect fish population and health.

Download the slide presentation prepared by Wendy Naugle of the Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Water discharged from the mine is collected and treated at a facility upstream from Minturn, Colorado.

Water Quality Standards set by the Commission are implemented through a "Total Mean Daily Load" plan. When levels of particular pollutants exceed the Standards for a reach of a River, that section of stream is placed on a list of streams pursuant to section 303d of the Clean Water Act. A "Total Mean Daily Load" document must then be prepared. The Total Mean Daily Load: document considers levels of these pollutants which arise from natural sources, non-point sources, and point sources. The "Total Mean Daily Load" document is then used to set discharge limits on these pollutants from point sources. A slide show further explaining the TMDL process, as well as the supporting appendices are available at the following link:

TMDL Process Slide Show