Updated: UP and locals comment on Fraser River pollution
October 4, 2016
The Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) has been discharging polluted water into the Fraser River. The discharges appear to have been occurring for multiple years and are a result of annual maintenance and cleaning work performed by the UPRR within the Moffat Tunnel.
Grand County officials are aware of the discharges and are currently in correspondence with officials from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to address local concerns about the potential existence of toxic and carcinogenic compounds within the discharged water.
Early Tuesday morning, Oct. 4, representatives of the UPRR issued the following statement in response to requests for comment about the discharges.
"Union Pacific is preparing for a safety-critical construction project to be performed inside the Moffat Tunnel," reads the statement sent by UPRR Director of Corporate Communications Calli Hite. "The project will begin the week of October 9 and is scheduled to last approximately four days. We are working closely with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to identify and install appropriate measures to prevent and/or minimize impacts from sediment."
The statement from the UPRR appears to allude to a water treatment plant that is planned to be operational at the Moffat Tunnel's West Portal in the spring of 2017 and is intended to treat the water discharged from the Moffat Tunnel by the UPRR.
Winter Park Town Manager Drew Nelson stated he was aware of the discharges and ongoing discussions between the County and State. "Grand County has done a great job of communicating with the Town on this matter, and we have collaborated on water testing related to the discharge you are referring to," Nelson stated.
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"We also worked in collaboration with Grand County, Winter Park Water and Sanitation District, and other interested parties in pushing the CDPHE for the installation of the UPRR water treatment facility currently under construction near the Moffat Tunnel to treat water coming out of the tunnel a few years ago. Ultimately, the CDPHE and UPRR have an obligation to ensure that the Fraser River runs clean and pollutants are removed prior to discharge of any kind. Local dischargers (such as water and sanitation districts) are held to increasingly high standards by the State, and we believe that the same should be applied to UPRR and anything coming out of the Moffat Tunnel."
Local conservation groups like the Colorado Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited (TU) are taking particular note of the incident. Trout Unlimited works closely with Grand County entities and cross-basin diverters such as Denver Water to maintain or restore portions of Grand County watersheds. Kirk Klancke is the President of the Grand County chapter of Trout Unlimited and was disappointed in the recent revelation.
"It saddens me that the people in this county put so much effort in the health of our rivers and outside corporations like Union Pacific can so carelessly and seemingly intentionally harm those efforts," Klancke stated. "I am looking forward to seeing the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment come to a permanent solution to this problem."