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Blue River discoloration dissipates, officials say orange color was never health hazard

Fire chief: discoloration was mostly mud
Posted at 6:40 PM, Apr 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-29 21:18:40-04

BRECKENRIDGE -- The Blue River in Summit County took on a different hue over the weekend.

Photos from Denver7 viewers show the typically crystal clear river an orange-yellow color.

Experts say the discoloration came from heavy rains on Friday, causing mine waste and mud from a beaver dam upstream to break free.

Red White and Blue fire chief Jim Keating says tests show there was never any hazard to public health or to the wildlife.

"What we're seeing here is honestly, mostly mud,” Keating said. “Red mud."

The discoloration was certainly concerning.

“It had a lot of people freaked out,” Keating said. “Particularly - I think - the most calls I got were people who fish the area."

By Monday things had mostly cleared up.

The Blue River is part of Denver Water’s supply.

Denver Water released this statement Monday:

"Denver Water is always concerned when things like this happen. We continue to monitor the situation along with public health agencies and can assure Denver Water customers their drinking water is safe. Roberts Tunnel has not been operating for a few weeks and won’t be until the summer, so Dillon water isn’t currently flowing to our Marston and Foothills treatment plants. Further assessment found that the discolored water dissipated 5 to 7 miles above the Blue River’s inflow into Dillon. Speaking more broadly, we manage watershed health for many issues, including debris, sediment (forest fires), septic systems and historic mine drainage; the latter has been a part of Colorado’s history for more than 150 years and so we are prepared for events like this in our high country watersheds. That said, while we work hard to manage these issues, there are costs for our customers for prevention and treatment, so it’s always better if these events can be reduced. We are always sampling our watersheds, including the Blue River and Dillon Reservoir and that will continue. We’ll increase our sampling frequency if we detect any uptick in metals. We are in contact with other public agencies also conducting sampling in the area, including the Upper Blue Sanitation District. Additional testing/sampling results will allow our treatment plants to have more information to support treating water once Roberts Tunnel opens. Our treatment plants are state-of-the-art. They remove contaminants and ensure drinking water is safe. We conduct exhaustive testing in accordance with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment guidelines, and those tests show our drinking water is safe and meets or goes beyond federal and state requirements.”

Colorado certainly has historical reference to mine drainage issues.

In 2015, EPA personnel at the Gold King Mine near Durango accidentally destroyed a plug, causing three million gallons of toxic water, including heavy metals, to spill into the Animas River watershed.

With snowpack well above average and more snow and rain in the forecast this week, experts say this could be a common theme this mud season.

"While we are vigilant, we're not terribly concerned right now," Keating said.