Union Pacific Railroad gets cease and desist order after illegal discharge into Fraser River
Clean up your act, Union Pacific Railroad — that’s the sentiment being voiced by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The Colorado Water Quality Control Division, a subdivision of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, issued a notice of violation, as well as cease and desist and clean-up orders to the Union Pacific Railroad Co. earlier this month citing a number of violations regarding dumping into the Fraser River.
Union Pacific Railroad, or UPR, headquartered in Omaha, Neb., conducts railroad operations through the Moffat Tunnel, the western portal of which is located near Winter Park Resort. UPR has been permitted to discharge into the river via an outfall near the western portal since 2008, and has been pumping its discharge through a water treatment system before it enters the river since April 2017.
But an ongoing investigation through the Department of Public Health and Environment, CDPHE, uncovered a series of violations dating back to 2012.
Kelly Morgan, clean water enforcement unit manager for the Water Quality Control Division, said that the effects of the illegal discharges are largely unknown, which is why the division is requiring UPR to launch its own investigation.
The railroad is allegedly guilty of failing to comply with permit effluent — liquid waste — limitations, failing to properly monitor and report a number of parameters from the outfall, failing to notify the division of significant increases in the quantity of pollutants being discharged, discharging without a permit and failing to comply with basic surface water standards.
Pursuant to the permit, UPR is required to monitor all applicable effluent parameters coming out of the west portal outfall on a monthly basis, and provide discharge monitoring reports to CDPHE. Violations of this part of the permit were found in 2012, 2014 and 2015. In July 2012, CDPHE reported deficient monitoring in more than 15 parameters including the amount of dissolved iron and magnesium entering the river.
In 2016, UPR conducted maintenance activities within the Moffat Tunnel, and were required to notify CDPHE of any planned altercations that could increase the quantity of pollutants discharged. However, UPR failed to notify CDPHE, despite self-monitored turbidity levels — clarity of water based on sediment or particulate matter content — reaching almost seven times the normal level at times.
Turbidity is defined as a pollutant, according to state statute. The discharge of high turbidity water from a point source also constitutes harm to the beneficial uses of state water in violation of the Code of Colorado Regulations.
Grand County informed CDPHE in September 2016 that sediment-laden water was discharging into the Fraser River from a black pipe stemming from UPR’s outfall near the west portal. It was discovered that UPR was diverting sediment-laden water from the outfall through a filter bag system and into a corrugated metal pipe, which discharged directly into the river. The investigation estimated that water flow rate from the pipe into the river was about 200 gallons per minute.
In October 2016, investigators received another notification that sediment-laden water was discharging into the river. It was discovered that water overflowed UPR’s diversion filter bag system, and discharged via a concentrated flow over the ground and directly into the river. Investigators estimated 164 to 387 gallons per minute were being dumped, though estimates weren’t taken during the height of the incident.
The discharge contained, among other substances, mercury, iron, lead, manganese, uranium, copper and zinc, according to the report. Any discharge to state waters from a point source, other than the specifically authorized outfall, is strictly prohibited, and UPR did not have any other permits authorizing the discharges.
Morgan noted that only permitted discharge, along with natural leaking from the tunnel, is currently being discharged into the river.
UPR has not yet come into compliance with the delinquent discharge monitoring reports, according to Morgan.
The railroad has been ordered to cease and desist from all violations of the Colorado Water Quality Control Act, and has until March 16 to submit all delinquent discharge monitoring reports. The order also requires UPR to hire an independent third party to evaluate what, if any, ongoing and potential future impacts to the river exist as a result of the illegal discharges in 2016. CDPHE also ordered UPR to perform an evaluation of their water treatment system.
Failure to comply with the terms of the order comes with a $10,000 penalty per day that violations occur.
Union Pacific Railroad released the following statement on the matter:
“The Notice of Violation pertains to safety-related work performed by Union Pacific at the West Portal of the Moffat Tunnel in 2016,” Union Pacific said in a statement to Sky-Hi News. “The work disturbed sediment inside the tunnel, causing intermittent exceedances of the state water quality permit. At the time, Union Pacific’s new wastewater treatment plant was not yet operational.
“However, to prevent permit exceedances, we engaged contractors to install additional pollution control measures.”
Throughout the process, according to Union Pacific, the railroad was in close contact with the state of Colorado.
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