Dolores takes a hard look upstream

Potential pollution sources threaten the town's water supply

Dolores is drawing up a emergency action plan to handle potential pollution sources into the Dolores River.

The watershed protection plan is a non-binding education effort designed to prevent risks to the region's water supply. Fertilizers, pesticides, fuel spills, mining wastes, septic systems and parking lot runoff are all potential sources of contamination for the river, said town manager Ryan Mahoney.

"We want residents to be aware that these can all pollute our water source," Mahoney said. "We want to develop a response plan if there is a spill into the river."

According to a source water susceptibility analysis, the domestic water well and water treatment plant for Dolores are rated moderately high for possible pollution if not managed properly.

"A truck spill upriver, a mine discharge or flooded septic system are potential risks we need to be prepared to handle with cleanup and alternative water sources," Mahoney said. "Identifying the risks and then developing best management practices for dealing with them is the goal."

A lagoon-style septic system at an upriver RV park is on a variance at the moment, he said, and is a risk to the river if it fails or is flooded.

The plan calls for an inventory of all above- and below-ground storage tanks in the river corridor so emergency responders are aware of potential pollution sources.

Education on proper maintenance of septic systems is a good preventative measure.

Scott Clow, an environmental specialist and resident of the valley, said everyday activities contribute to pollution runoff.

"Parking lots are a source of pollution from leaking oil and fluids. During a major rain event like we just had, large lots like the one at the school drain directly into the river carrying all of that oil and fuel contamination," he said. "It is the cumulative affect over time we should be aware of and work to mitigate."

Upriver, salt storage and magnesium chloride storage tanks for highway maintenance are a source of pollution if they got into the river. A series of mine waste settling ponds near Rico would create an environmental disaster if they were to discharge into the river. In 2000, a levee breached on one of the ponds but was repaired by the EPA.

Oil and gas operations also pose a risk. A major gas pipeline runs underneath the river upstream from Dolores.

"People don't realize that there are pipelines and natural gas wells above Dolores and on Haycamp Mesa," Clow said. "Accidents happen, and we need to be prepared."

EPA officials reported chemical barrels from an industrial operation floating down river from Dove Creek, he added.

Trucks hauling hazardous materials occasionally crash into the Dolores River and spill their loads. A best management practice is being utilized by local propane haulers, reported mayor Val Truelsen, by using 300-gallon tanks instead of 500-gallon tanks.

Grants from the Environmental Protection Agency are earmarked for water providers to conduct source protection studies and plans. Collaborating with other water providers such as Montezuma Water Company, Dolores Water Conservancy District and area towns to obtain the grant funding is a goal of the plan.

Dolores Trustee Sandy Lauzon is supportive of the proactive plan to handle pollution.

"I hear some people say they can do anything they want with their land, but we live in a shared environment and need to be careful," she said. "This plan is not a moment too soon."

Outreach education to residents is a part of the program, Mahoney said.

"Just being aware of pollution sources in your garage and that fertilizers or pesticides put on your lawn run off into the river is important," he said. "People need to understand the risks that befall us if we ignore the potential sources of pollution to a water supply we all depend on."