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State regulators and owners of the Cross and Caribou Mine near Nederland showed pictures of containment ponds, water filtration equipment and other projects the mine is carrying out in order to comply with a cease and desist order and continue cleaning up mine waste, shown on Jan. 19, 2022. (Screenshot of Mined Land Reclamation Board hearing)

Tainted water leaking from the Cross and Caribou mines above Nederland is not a threat to drinking water in the area, state mining reclamation officials said in a letter to the public, though they have also placed the mine in a higher category of environmental review sought by conservation groups.

The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety said it “found no evidence indicating groundwater discharges from the mine led to degradation of surface and groundwater resources,” after reviewing public complaints and tests showing discharges near the mine of heavy metals like copper and lead.  

Despite the past exceedances of discharge standards, the state “found that all discharges were below drinking water standards,” the letter said. Officials said they were also taking into account the distance from the mine to any domestic wells, and water sampling data provided by the City of Boulder for Coon Track Creek, Middle Boulder Creek and Barker Reservoir within the Boulder watershed. 

Mine officials said they were pleased. 

“The water leaving our mine is and has always been safe to drink,” said a statement released by Daniel Takami, president of mine owner Grand Island Resources. “We remain committed to meeting and improving upon the Cross and Caribou Mines’ legacy of ‘mining with respect for the environment’ while being exemplary stewards of Boulder County’s land and water.”

The mine in the mountains northwest of Nederland remains under state review as it demonstrates new water cleanup equipment installed to keep tainted water from overflowing discharge ponds. In January, the state Mined Land Reclamation Board imposed a $17,000 fine on the owners of Cross and Caribou for water quality violations at the discharge points, but suspended all but $5,000 of the penalty as long as Grand Island Resources continues “good faith” efforts to install containment and cleanup equipment.

The state agency’s staff has so far supported the mine’s efforts to complete a filtration system for any water emitted from the historic mine, and said they would continue on-site review of the improvements and water sampling. 

In a separate letter, state officials notified the mine that they were declaring it a “designated mining operation,” which adds a layer of rules under state law. 

The designation “will ensure that special attention is given to all potential disturbances of toxic-producing material to ensure protection of water quality,” said attorney Jeff Parsons, who works for the Western Mining Action Project and is representing Save The Colorado and its members in Boulder County. 

The designation triggers a 2019 state law that requires the mine to “demonstrate that no perpetual water treatment will be required upon closure — so that there is a true ‘walk-away’ reclamation plan that doesn’t burden the community or taxpayers with long-term water quality problems,” Parsons said. 

“We’re pleased that the state made a ‘designated mining operation’ determination, and we will continue to support the town of Nederland and the Boulder County community to help ensure that Boulder Creek’s water quality is protected,” said Gary Wockner of Save The Colorado, which last year worked with Nederland officials to pass a resolution conferring “rights of nature” on the Boulder Creek watershed. 

The mine has 30 days from designation on Feb. 17 to prepare an environmental protection plan or contest the state decision, Parsons said. Grand Island Resources said it was reviewing the state’s designation before deciding how to respond later in March.

The mine owners’ statement hailing the state’s declaration on the clean water results aimed more barbs at Nederland officials they blame for a public outcry about potentially reviving gold operations. 

“In the future we hope that uninformed activists and elected officials will work with us to first get all the facts before making potentially harmful, slanderous, and demonstrably false claims that raise unwarranted fear and uncertainty among our friends and neighbors,” Takami said. “The citizens of Nederland and Boulder County deserve better. ”   

Michael Booth is The Sun’s environment writer, and co-author of The Sun’s weekly climate and health newsletter The Temperature. He and John Ingold host the weekly Sun-Up podcast on The Temperature topics every Thursday. He is co-author with...