UPPR still polluting the Fraser River
Grand County Water Quality Specialist Katherine Morris discussed the Fraser River pollution that has been occurring near the Moffat Tunnel at the Tuesday, October 11 Grand County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting.
Morris said that on September 15 and September 26 the county received complaints (complete with photos and video) about the Moffat Tunnel discharge polluting the Fraser River.
She said that the discharge permit issued to the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) is for flows up to one-half-million gallons per day.
Morris said she forwarded complaints to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), which responded both times by requiring Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) to cease operations that were causing the polluted discharge.
Morris said that UPRR had brought in a temporary storage tank and bag filtration units mounted on a skid to treat the contents of the vacuum truck that the railroad is using as they conduct track maintenance activities inside the tunnel. The bag filtration was intended to accomplish three levels of filtration.
The filtration process was only conducted as maintenance was taking place, but the groundwater flow from the tunnel is constant, so without some sort of collection system, once the vacuum is turned off, contaminated flow resumes discharging through the established pipe where the discharge was originally found.
After the second incident Morris and a representative from CDPHE’s permit enforcement unit visited the site on September 26.
“While on site, we were told that the railroad was not conducting any work in the tunnel, but as we stood on the metal stairs over the discharge, it began flowing black again,” Morris said.
Morris said the bag filter setup was not in operation that day, and several of the spent bag filters (about one-third) had split open along the bottom, indicating that they may have been over pressurized until failure.
“We were told that the tearing may also have occurred upon removal, as they are difficult to remove,” Morris said.
She said UPRR had set up a temporary pipe from the bag filtration units that discharged to the Fraser River. This secondary discharge location is not permitted, so the representative from the State compelled UPRR to move the temporary pipe to discharge in the same location as the permitted discharge.
Thus far, CDPHE does not have a lab result demonstrating pollution of the water. The East Grand Water Quality Board approved sample collection and analysis, so if the water is contaminated, they will be prepared to collect some samples, according to Morris.
Morris pointed out that one of the difficulties the CDPHE has with enforcement of this permit is that no limits were put on discharges of metals or total suspended solids to allow for construction of the treatment facility and to prevent permit violations during that time.
Morris said UPRR has been responsive, but pollution has been spotted since the last reports.
She said UPRR claimed to have sent a river-vacuuming team to Winter Park, but that she had personally seen more black-colored water discharging from the site on the morning of October 11.
Related Story: Discharges into Fraser River raise questions
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When the East Troublesome Fire raged across Grand County last October, thousands of people were evacuated from the US Highway 34 corridor in 90 minutes, thanks in part to the preparation of evacuation maps.