Villa Grove, Colo.—Trout Unlimited (TU) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have reached an agreement that will shield TU from potential liability as it works to cleanup mine tailings along 17 miles of Kerber Creek.
In a draft agreement issued on August 19, the EPA will shield TU from liability under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act if hazardous waste is released by following an EPA-approved work plan.
“This is great news—we have been working on this project for Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act years and are glad that the agency has provided TU with this additional protection,” said Elizabeth Russell, project manager. “The risk of a release of hazardous waste from the tailings was very minimal, but we are grateful for the agency’s faith in TU to achieve results,” Russell said.
The Kerber Creek project is located at the north end of the San Luis Valley in Colorado. Historic mining along Kerber Creek led to metals pollution and a degraded stream channel, requiring it to be places on the list of Colorado’s most impaired waterways.
TU is the first to use the EPA’s “Good Samaritan” protection created in 2007 to accelerate restoration of watersheds and fisheries threatened by abandoned hard rock mine runoff by encouraging voluntary cleanups by parties that do not own the property and are not responsible for the property’s environmental conditions.
Since 2008, TU and its partners have spent over $1.3 million on restoration efforts along Kerber Creek. Working with the Bureau of Land Management, Colorado’s Nonpoint Source Program, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, and local landowners, the goal is to treat 60 acres of mine tailings using lime, limestone and compost, and to restore the stream for fish and wildlife habitat.
The EPA’s do not protect Good Samaritans from Clean Water Act liability, but this additional protection was not needed for the Kerber Creek project because there are no draining mines.
“Thousands of miles of headwater streams in the West are either threatened or dead as a result of historic mining pollution, and without Clean Water Act liability protection, Good Samaritans’ hands are tied,” said Russell. “If they try to treat the draining water to remove metals and improve water quality, they become liable for that water for ever. That’s a risk no entity has yet been willing to take.”