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Mining Company's Hydrology Study Could Impact Hot Springs, But Integral For Expansion Decision

Jan 2, 2020

An overlook of the mountains surrounded by Rocky Mountain Resources' current mining site. If its proposal to expand operations by 5,000% is approved, Glenwood Springs officials say the entire mountain in the middle could be stripped.
Credit Molly Dove / Aspen Public Radio

In December, the Bureau of Land Management said it will not make a decision to approve Rocky Mountain Resources’ proposal for a hydrology study until early 2020. 

The mining company owns the Mid-Continent Quarry just north of Glenwood Springs and is looking to expand operations by 5,000%. For the Bureau of Land Management to approve that expansion, it must first conduct a hydrology study. 

Morning Edition host and reporter Molly Dove has been following Rocky Mountain Resources’ proposal and spoke with reporter Christin Kay.

What exactly is the hydrology study?

The hydrology study is to look at the amount, the quality and the flow of the water underneath the Mid-Continent Quarry. What worries most Glenwood Springs officials and residents is the fact that five water wells must be drilled to do the study. But the study needs to be done for the Bureau of Land Management’s Environmental Impact Statement, which will ultimately decide if Rocky Mountain Resources’ expansion proposal will be approved or not. 

What are the concerns of Glenwood Springs residents and business owners?

They are concerned that the five wells drilled on the mining site for the hydrology study could possibly decimate the water resources for the hot springs, which is one of the main tourist attractions in town. 

Iron Mountain Hot Springs owner Steve Beckley says the limestone that Rocky Mountain Resources mines is called Leadville limestone. When the snowpack melts on the top of the mountain and seeps into the ground, the limestone houses and helps heat that water, which will eventually make its way back to the top of the surface as a hot spring. 

Beckley is concerned that if the Bureau of Land Management and Rocky Mountain Resources drills those five wells, it could change the direction of the flow of the water underneath that would typically be heated up and brought back to the surface as a hot spring, which could decimate his business and, city officials say, the town's $500 million tourist economy. "We would have to change our name from Glenwood Springs just to Glenwood, I guess,” said Beckley. 

Rocky Mountain Resources' current mining site at the Mid-Continent Quarry just north of Glenwood Springs. The mining company is looking to expand its operations by 5,000%
Credit Molly Dove / Aspen Public Radio

What is the Bureau of Land Management saying?

David Boyd, a spokesperson for the bureau, says the agency worked with the United States Geological Survey to determine the best possible location for the five wells to be drilled. He said the locations were picked based on minimizing impact on cave and hot springs resources, while also collecting the best data for the Environmental Impact Statement. 

Then why did the Bureau of Land Management postpone their decision to approve the hydrology study?

Boyd said that typically hydrology studies are pretty simple, so the agency was considering what is called a categorical exclusion, which would approve Rocky Mountain Resources’ hydrology study proposal without first doing an environmental assessment to see what kind of impact the hydrology study itself would have on the local land. But, he says. they decided to skip on the categorical exclusion and open the study proposal for public comment. 

“We got about 250 comments about impacts to the hot springs, to the cave resources and another issue that they raised too is ‘we want to see a more detailed environmental analysis of the potential impacts,” said Boyd.

After hearing those comments, Boyd said the Bureau of Land Management decided to first conduct an environmental assessment. Once that assessment is done, they will make a decision in early 2020 on if they should go forth with the hydrology study

Jeff Peterson (left), the Executive Director of the Glenwood Springs Citizens' Alliance, and Jonathan Godes (right), the mayor of Glenwood Springs, stand on on a cliff overlooking Rocky Mountain Resources' mine site.
Credit Molly Dove / Aspen Public Radio

So is this good news for people opposed to the expansion?

It’s kind of a double-edged sword. Glenwood Springs officials and residents are concerned about what the hydrology study could do if those water wells are drilled on the mining site. When the Bureau of Land Management announced its decision to first do an environmental assessment, the city was pleased. But the hydrology study is a big piece of baseline research the Bureau of Land Management needs to draft a well-rounded Environmental Impact Statement, which again, will ultimately decide if Rocky Mountain Resources’ expansion proposal is approved or not.