US Forest Service Expands Howard Fork Project
Isotope Sampling to Trace Acid Mine Drainage
The Howard Fork of the San Miguel River, near Ophir, Colorado, has been impacted and degraded by mining, most of which occurred between 1880 and 1950. Today, draining adits are among those remnants of historical mining activity that continue to discharge water contaminated by metals loading and acid rock drainage directly or indirectly into the river. Tailing piles and waste rock dumps, many located directly adjacent to the Howard Fork, represent another significant source of metals loading.
Recognizing that there is a profound need to develop cost-effective strategies to reduce acid rock drainage and also better manage liability concerns, TLR was awarded $60,000 in 2002 by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, via a grant administered by the USEPA, to analyze regional hydrogeology as it relates to mine workings which discharge significant heavy metals into the Howard Fork and recommend strategies to intercept and divert water away from mineralized zones. The two-year study received an added boost by the pledge of an additional $6,000 from local landowner Glenn Pauls and another $22,500 from the United States Forest Service in the form of a contract for consulting services.
In 2003, the Forest Service added several tasks to the scope of work and provided an additional $48,000. One of the studies that this new funding will allow is a cutting-edge isotope sampling study. TLR’s technical consultant, American Geological Services, will cooperate with USEPA’s Mike Wireman and University of Colorado’s Mark Williams to trace water from outside the Howard Fork Basin to see if that water is somehow entering mine workings on the Howard Fork, picking up metals, and draining into the Howard Fork. The additional Forest Service funding has also allowed TLR to cooperate with the Town of Ophir to identify and contact owners of patented mining claims to discuss open space conservation.
An added word of thanks to the many helpful people at USEPA Region 8 who have been so supportive of this project. Mike Wireman and Bill Schroeder deserve special recognition. Hydrologist Mike Wireman has been the catalyst for all of TLR’s work along the Howard Fork, as well as a key participant in a number of activities in the San Miguel watershed for the last ten years. Bill Schroeder is the EPA’s water chemistry ace-in-the-field who led two multi-day water sampling events on the Howard Fork in 2003 and has planned at least one more in 2004. A dozen residents of San Miguel County are also to be recognized for their volunteer help to make these sampling events a success.