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Trout now thrive below Summitville site

Brief by Central Staff

Wildlife – February 2002 – Colorado Central Magazine

Trout are again thriving downstream from the Summitville Mine Superfund site, but the real test will come with this spring’s runoff.

Terrace Reservoir sits on the Alamosa River about 20 miles below the mine. It had once been a popular fishing spot, but about a decade ago, the mine began to leak. Its owner declared bankruptcy and the Environmental Protection Agency took over. The state and federal governments have since spent about $235 million.

In July, the state Division of Wildlife released 7,000 small rainbow trout into the reservoir, which then had no fish. In early October, nets pulled in a sample of 153 fish.

Thus they had survived more than two months. Weight gains averaged 47%, and they were on average 23% longer.

“It’s a good sampling,” according to Austin Buckingham, the state’s supervisor for the Summitville project. “We haven’t seen any dead fish,” so “We feel pretty comfortable.”

The fish will be sampled again in April, and then comes the major challenge when the snow melts and heavy runoff will scour the mine site at 12,000 feet, presumably washing more toxic chemicals into the reservoir.

So, it’s a good start, but the jury is still out.