Keystone Snowmaking May Be Polluting Rivers

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Keystone, CO, Feb. 8--The U.S. Forest Service says that Keystone Resort, in Colorado, may be polluting otherwise clean water in nearby streams and creeks. The culprit is the resort's elaborate and extensive snowmaking system, which takes water from the Snake River, long since polluted with heavy metals.

The metals in the Snake River come from abandoned mine sites high in the drainage system, and concentrations of some metals exceed limits set by the state to protect aquatic life. Consequentially, the river is formally listed as impaired under the Clean Water Act.

Keystone diverts up to 550 square feet of water from the Snake River annually, or enough to make snow on about 850 acres of terrain. The study seems to suggest that by taking polluted water from the Snake River and spreading it on Keystone Mountain as man-made snow, the resort is actually transporting toxic heavy metals to clean drainages.

"We did some fairly intensive sampling in Camp Creek, as well as in Jones Gulch and Keystone Gulch," said the USFS Dillon Ranger District's Mike Liu. "I think the results indicate we should be taking a little harder look at this," Liu said.

Environmental groups who oppose additional snowmaking at Keystone and at Arapahoe Basin ski areas find the data from the Forest Service study deeply concerning.

"This report appears to confirm our greatest fear," said Ted Zukoski, staff attorney at the Boulder-based Land & Water Fund. "Keystone's snowmaking takes water from a dirty creek and pollutes what would normally be clean streams. "It (the data) shows that snowmaking likely has some damaging, and so far unacknowledged, impacts that could undermine efforts to keep Colorado's rivers healthy," Zukoski said.

Zukoski said the new information could affect plans to develop ski terrain and snowmaking in Jones Gulch, just east of Keystone's existing terrain.

"The Forest Service and Keystone have a tall order in trying to figure out how they can make snow for Jones Gulch without polluting the watershed there," Zukoski said.

Resort officials declined to comment on the data due to ongoing negotiations with federal officials regarding a permit for the snowmaking diversion.