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Water Quality

Proposal for “Outstanding Waters” Approved

On June 11 and 12, 2007, the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission held hearings on water quality standards for the Arkansas and Rio Grande basins. CTU participated in the hearings as a formal “party” to the rulemaking, and raised several key issues of interest for coldwater conservation.

First and foremost, CTU proposed – and the Commission approved – “outstanding water” designations for two streams on the flanks of Pikes Peak: Bear Creek, and Severy Creek. Both streams have high water quality and support recovery populations of greenback cutthroat trout, a federally-listed threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Under “outstanding water” designations, streams are placed under an “anti-degradation” standard, meaning that the existing high levels of water quality must be preserved (rather than being degraded down to the levels allowed by general standards for different pollutants). Protecting the current high levels of water quality in these streams will help secure their valuable native trout populations and assist in efforts to recover the species and ultimately de-list greenbacks.

River Watch volunteers with the Cheyenne Mountain Chapter of TU collected water quality data over the past two years on these streams, and documented that they are of high quality. CTU shared information on these streams with various entities interested in these streams – the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Springs Utilities – and has received no negative feedback. The Colorado Division of Wildlife and Colorado Water Quality Control Division also support the proposal. We encourage the Commission to establish these streams as “outstanding waters” and help promote recovery of this threatened species.

CTU also raised concerns with proposals offered by other parties in the hearing. Specifically:

  • Climax Molybdenum had proposed a weakening of zinc standards in portions of the Upper Arkansas River (segment 1b). In pre-hearing negotiations, agreement was reached on using a chronic zinc standard based on the state table value standards, and an acute standard based on actual ambient conditions. A great deal of mine cleanup work has allowed trout to re-establish in this segment of river, and this agreement will help ensure that we don’t take steps backward on those water quality and fishery restoration efforts.
  • The Division of Hazardous Materials has proposed changes to relax standards for zinc and cadmium on other portions of the Upper Arkansas (segments 2b and 2c). CTU raised concerns that studies justifying these changes were based on work done with fish in lab settings and exposed to a single metal; in reality, fish are exposed to a whole suite of stressors. In this case, CTU forwarded a DOW study that looked at the effects of combined exposure to cadmium and zinc. As it turns out, the Arkansas will remain below the levels for cadmium and zinc that were problematic under the DOW study. While the proposal was not changed in this case, it remains vital to encourage a more multi-pollutant approach to examining impacts on fish.
  • Cripple Creek and Victor mining company was working on an agreement for segment 20 in the upper Arkansas. The company sought a “no fish” qualifier for the upper sections of Cripple Creek – i.e., a finding that this area cannot support fish (meaning that water quality standards for fishery protection need not be applied). CTU had a major concern with this, because fish actually ARE present and need protection. Ultimately, the Commission adopted a proposal that splits the creek into two segments – upper reaches (above the areas in which fish are found) and lower reaches. The lower reaches were given “reviewable” status, which will ensure that water quality impacts of any proposals are carefully examined before it can be permitted. The company also sought a temporary modification to standards for temperature – but provided no data to show why such a temporary change is needed; accordingly, CTU opposed the temporary modification and it was ultimately withdrawn. Any variances from state standards need to be based on data, not on speculation.