Blue River turns orange in Breckenridge
The Blue River has turned orange in Breckenridge. The water went from its natural blue-green hue to a bright, burnt orange Saturday. The water is clear in the town of Blue River.
The source of the orange water appears to be an abandoned mine on private property near the intersection of Boreas Pass Road and Bright Hope Circle. There is no confirmation at this time if the runoff is harmful to human health.
Authorities are still investigating and all local water districts have been notified. The Blue River is one of the primary sources for the Dillon Reservoir, which provides drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people on the Front Range.
A similar incident occurred back in April 2006, when toxic heavy metals from an abandoned mine near the same site as the current spill ran down the Blue and turned it orange in Breckenridge for three days. The incident caused a mass death of fish in the river.
In an update at 6:50 p.m., Red, White and Blue Fire District have issued a press release about the orange water. The district said first responders were dispatched about discolored water at 3:15 p.m. Multiple fire companies and a specialty HAZMAT unit responded. The fire district determined that the source of the orange water is a known release point on Boreas Pass Road. Initial testing done by fire district personnel found the water to not be an immediate or obvious danger to human health. The fire district also said there is no immediate corrective action possible from first responders. Typically, this kind of orange mine runoff lasts about 24 hours.
“Given the rainfall that occurred last night, it is not surprising that we are seeing this type of activity today,” said RWB batallion chief and incident commander Drew Hoehn. “We realize the optics of the run-off are in stark contrast to what folks are normally used to seeing in the Blue River, but we are confident in the assessment and assurance of the public’s welfare in this particular situation.”
Initial reports of the incident brought to mind the 2015 Gold King Mine disaster in Silverton, Colorado. In August of that year, the Environmental Protection Agency accidentally broke a plug on a retention pond during a cleanup operation at the mine. That caused the release of three million gallons of toxic, orange water over the course of a week, with downstream impacts felt as far down as New Mexico. The legacy of Colorado’s mining history in the 19th century continues to haunt the state, with thousands of abandoned mines across the Rockies still polluting rivers and watersheds with heavy, toxic metals.
Lindsey Marlow grew up on the West Coast, but she’s no saltwater snob. That’s a good thing, because this month she started as program manager for Friends of the Yampa, becoming the organization’s first full-time staff member.