Western Class Testing Water for the EPA
Sept. 24, 2008 -- Henson Creek, which flows into Lake City, is listed by the State of Colorado and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as an impaired waterway. This last week an Environmental Applications course from Western State College, led by Professor Kevin Alexander, was performing water quality tests on the river.
The tests were done, not just as an academic exercise, but as "real work" that the EPA will use to decide how best to restore the river.
The tests also included other agencies: the Lake Fork Watershed Stakeholders (LFWS), the Department of Reclamation, Mining and Safety (DRMS), and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
Last Thursday two WSC vans rolled into Lake City and joined forces with the above mentioned entities. Soon they were at various locations in Henson Creek and tributaries that flow into the river taking samples of the water.
Henson Creek is known to have high levels of zinc and cadmium. Previous mining activity, particularly the Hough Mine, which is up Palmetto Gulch, is suspected to be the main contributor. In this region, gold, silver, copper and other minerals have all been mined.
The goal is to get Henson Creek to meet the standards of the Clean Water Act.
The high levels of zinc and cadmium are affecting the health of Henson Creek; which means the life that exists in the river is less than what it should be. This "life" includes the fish and the insects that make up a healthy stream.
Ryan Callison is a senior ecology major at WSC. Wading in the streams of Henson Creek and its tributaries, collecting data for the EPA is something he believes will help him in the future. "It's good to hear from the mouths of these experts," he said. "This hands on learning technique is going to carry out (for me) in the workplace."
Callison's career plans involve this line of work and "avoiding a desk."
Kirstin Brown, who works for DRMS, is pleased to see, "students getting knowledge about mining and water quality. They are seeing different pieces of this watershed and seeing how historic mining has impacted it and also how future mining could impact it."
Bob Owen is a water consultant who has worked in this field for over 30 years. Recently he's been involved with the Animas River Stakeholders, and the $28 million cleanup that has occurred on the Animas and nearby rivers. Now working with Henson Creek his role is to, "identify and quantify where pollutants are coming from and determine feasibility of correcting the problems from past mining."
He believes that tailings from the Hough Mine are going to be a major part of the reclamation. Camille Richard, Watershed Coordinator with the LFWS, agrees, saying that the tailings need to be enclosed so that they stop leeching into the water.
Richard, Owen and all the other agencies and institutions involved all also agree on their goal: improving the water quality of Henson Creek and its tributaries.
Kevin Alexander reports that taxpayers are likely to pay the bill. This he doesn't sound excited about but when it comes to the research he couldn't be happier.
"This project has history, culture, policy and politics, which is great for environmental application," he said. "We're collecting real data from real use and it's going to provide some real solutions."
Story by: Luke Mehall, assistant director of public relations