In 2000, in light of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) investigations of mine-related water impacts in the watershed showing impairments to water quality and aquatic habitat, the Lake Fork Watershed Working Group was created collaboratively by the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Colorado Mountain College Natural Resources Management Institute (CMC NRMI) to assess the environmental and health data related to the upper Lake Fork Watershed. In October 2000 an initial meeting was held between interested parties associated with the watershed. More than 30 people showed up as interested stakeholders in the watershed representing BLM, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation, land owners, CMC, Colorado State Forest Service, Colorado Department of Wildlife and private entities.
The Lake Fork Watershed Working Group (LFWWG) is an organization created by stakeholders involved in watershed issues. The mission of the group is to represent the entire range of community and stakeholder interests in watershed activities, and to facilitate communication, acquire data, and recommend remediation and restoration activities in areas of environmental degradation.
- To create a watershed plan that will address mining related contamination and prioritization of reclamation efforts, Total Maximum Daily Load implementation, road erosion, land status, forestry, soils, recreation, and water uses.
- To achieve suitable water quality and quantity within the Lake Fork so as to sustain a viable cold-water fisheries.
- To improve the corridor habitat for wildlife and waterfowl.
- To provide an educational resource to the community.
- To respect and adhere to stakeholder, land, and water owners’ rights.
- To provide potential natural resource damage remediation opportunities.
The group is presently comprised of representatives from U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Forest Service, Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, Colorado Mountain College, Trout Unlimited, other academic institutions, local landowners, and citizens.
The Lake Fork watershed lies in central Colorado east of the Continental Divide approximately 5 miles west of Leadville in Lake County, Colorado. It encompasses approximately 86 square miles (approximately 55,000 acres) of an area ranging in elevation from nearly 14,000 feet at the Continental Divide to about 9,000 feet in the Arkansas River Valley where it discharges into the Arkansas River. Flow is controlled by snowpack melt and summer storm runoff.
The upper Arkansas River is polluted by mine wastes and mine drainage from several watersheds. As a result of previous mining practices, the watersheds encompass flowing mine adits, mine waste deposits, and other non-point contaminant sources. Tributaries to the Lake Fork include Colorado Gulch, Sugarloaf Gulch, Bartlett Gulch, and Little Frying Pan. Colorado Gulch is one of the largest contributors of heavy metals to the Lake Fork of the Arkansas River.
The Lake Fork flows approximately five miles from Sugarloaf Dam into the Arkansas River supplying the Arkansas River Valley with water used for municipal, industrial and recreational purposes. Below the Lake Fork confluence, the Arkansas River does not meet Colorado water quality standards. Past studies have demonstrated that this reach continues to be contaminated for up to 16 miles down gradient, and the river is shown to be affected by metal contamination for over 100 miles down gradient from Lake County. The Arkansas River is considered to be a source of potable water for the Front Range population centers of Aurora, Colorado Springs and Pueblo,and additionally, its general use includes recreation and agricultural purposes.
The Sugarloaf Mining District, south of Turquoise Lake, is well known for its high-grade ore. This area was mined from the late 1800′s through approximately 1950 producing a substantial amount of precious and heavy metals. The Tiger-Shields vein was discovered in 1879 and the mine opened in 1880. It was worked in several periods until 1922. The Tiger-Shields vein is one of many ore-bearing veins in the Sugarloaf Mining District, which mostly mined silver from a vein within the St. Kevin Granite or within the Precambrian Biotite Schist and Gneiss. Such intense mining activities in the Sugarloaf Mining District resulted in mine waste piles and openings which contribute heavy metals to the Lake Fork watershed.
For more resources related to mining history or the history of Leadville please visit the Related Literature page under Resources.