Commissioners approve state letter on UPRR discharge
May 3, 2016
The Grand County Board of Commissioners have approved a letter to officials with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment noting their concern with the Union Pacific Railroad's recent discharge of wastewater into the Fraser River from Moffat Tunnel.
The letter, addressed to Permits Section Manager Janet Kieler and Clean Water Program Manager Nicole Rowan, adds the county's input to discussions surrounding UPRR's report on the discharge, which the county maintains began around Aug. 10, 2015.
UPRR did not contact Grand County to the discharge, which it contends came from maintenance operations inside Moffat Tunnel.
"If a concerned citizen hadn't called me, I would not have known about it," County Water Quality Specialist Katherine Morris told the board of county commissioners at its May 3 meeting.
"No attempt appears to have been made to contain or treat the discharge prior to release to the Fraser River," the letter states.
In the letter, the county criticizes UPRR's testing method following the discharge, arguing that "socially and environmentally responsible reporting" would have also tested for pollutants including volatile organic carbons, semi-volatile organic carbons and diesel range organics.
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UPRR conducted whole effluent toxicity testing, or WET testing, to determine the discharge's environmental impact.
Grand County argues that WET testing "is not adequate to accurately assess toxicity of sediments for survival of macroinvertebrates and fish," the letter states.
Grand County, the East Grand Water Quality Board and the Town of Winter Park worked together to collect water and sediment samples from above and below the discharge site for analysis by Lakewood-based Test America.
Though much of the pollution was attenuated during the period of time between when discharge began and testing, the tests revealed multiple constituents, including semi-volatile organic compounds, metals and mercury, present below the discharge point that were completely absent in upstream samples.
"Preliminary interpretation indicates that downstream sediments contain elevated levels of (semi-volatile organic compounds), including several toxic compounds, diesel range organics, and elevated mercury," the letter states. "After review of the lab results, Grand County asks that CDPHE require action as appropriate on the part of UPRR to address the accumulation of years of contaminated sediment in the Fraser River.
The county requests that CDPHE require Union Pacific to monitor and disclose "all constituents that have a reasonable potential to be present in the aqueous discharge, adsorbed to or comprising total suspended solids, and settled particulates or downstream sediments."
The letter also requests that CDPHE add "enforceable numeric limits" to Union Pacific's current discharge permit.
Hank Shell can be reached at 970-557-6010.