- Associated Press - Thursday, October 8, 2015

DENVER (AP) - An Environmental Protection Agency contractor inadvertently released about 2,000 gallons of sediment-bearing water into a creek from a holding pond at a western Colorado Superfund site, officials said Thursday.

EPA spokeswoman Laura Jenkins said the water in the pond had been treated and had a neutral pH, meaning it was neither acidic nor alkaline, but she didn’t immediately know whether it contained any remaining contaminants.

An EPA statement said there was no visible plume of pollution in the creek and no sign of “significant impacts.”

The pond contains water flowing from the inactive Standard Mine above Crested Butte, a resort town about 125 miles southwest of Denver. The former silver mine is now a Superfund cleanup site.

The pond also holds water used in drilling operations involved in the cleanup, Jenkins said.

The water and sediment were released Tuesday into a tributary of Coal Creek, which supplies water to Crested Butte. Mayor Aaron Huckstep said he doesn’t believe the release threatens the town’s water, but officials will monitor the creeks and the water system.

“Any time a situation like this occurs, your town is rightfully going to pay close attention to what might occur,” Huckstep said.

Huckstep said 2,000 gallons was a relatively small volume compared with the flow in Coal Creek. The town didn’t close its intake valves, he said.

The contractor was using a vacuum truck to transfer water from the pond into the creek but inadvertently drew up gray-colored sediment from the pond floor, Jenkins said.

An EPA contractor has transferred water from the pond to the creek previously, Huckstep said.

The release was another embarrassment for the EPA, which triggered a 3 million-gallon spill of contaminated water from the Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado nine weeks earlier. That water contained elevated levels of heavy metals that reached rivers in New Mexico and Utah.

The EPA’s role in the Gold King spill and its handling of the aftermath drew harsh criticism from Congress, particularly Republicans already upset with the agency’s attempts to toughen air and water pollution regulations.

“Another spill caused by the actions of the EPA - at a Superfund site no less - calls further into question this agency’s ability to adequately execute these types of projects,” Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colorado, said in a statement.

Tipton, whose district includes both the Gold King and Standard mines, was also frustrated that the EPA didn’t notify his office directly about the Standard incident.

The EPA said it promptly notified Crested Butte and state health officials.


Follow Dan Elliott at https://twitter.com/DanElliottAP

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