Moffat Tunnel discharge should be clean as a whistle |

Moffat Tunnel discharge should be clean as a whistle

Trains are something of an icon in Grand County.

Live here long enough and you fall in love with the daily image of the train snaking a line below the mountains.

The sound of the train is Grand County white noise. It’s the background music of our lives as it passes from one town to the next.

Our local history books are full of pictures of the construction of the Moffat Tunnel. We name our ski slopes, our parks, our bars and our bands with train-themed names.

But, for now, we need to take a step back from our iconic image of the train and look at the reality.

Recently, the Union Pacific Railroad, which operates the Moffat Tunnel, applied for a discharge permit with variances for the west end of the tunnel into the Fraser River.

According to Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, any entity discharging into the watershed is required to treat the water before it enters the river.

The railroad company has asked for leeway, such as a waiver of the requirement to remove suspended solids from the discharge.

Thankfully, the Winter Park Town Council has taken steps to protest these variances.

Snowmelt and runoff have been flowing through that tunnel, picking up contaminants along the way, and entering the Fraser River ” unfiltered and untreated.

We appreciate the Winter Park Town Council working to protect the Fraser River by bringing this issue to light, and we encourage residents with similar concerns to send letters of protest to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. (See the address and permit reference number at the bottom of this editorial.)

In 2005, American Rivers listed the Fraser River as third on its list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers because of the amount of water that is withdrawn from the river through the assertion of water rights. This withdrawal already makes it difficult for the river to dilute pollutants washing into it from U.S. Highway 40, according to American Rivers’ published report.

The protest letter from the Winter Park Town Council used the phrase “a vital artery” to describe the Fraser River’s place in our community.

It fills our lives in so many ways from providing recreation to giving us our drinking water.

Union Pacific Railroad should not be granted a variance and should be held to the highest standards for water quality, given the position of the discharge into the beginning of a water system that feeds communities across the West.

If the railroad does not treat its discharge, the responsibility will fall on others.

We should do everything in our power to protect the Fraser River, and the Union Pacific Railroad should be a partner, not a hindrance, in that protection.

To include your voice on this issue, send letters to Andrew Neuhart, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, 4300 Cherry Creek Drive South, Denver, CO 80246-1530. Reference: Union Pacific Railroad/Moffat Tunnel discharge permit application, permit no. CQ-0600684.

A draft of the letter sent by the Winter Park Town Board is printed to the right on this page . It is also posted at

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