CU-Boulder Professor, Student Honored By EPA For Work On Acid Mine Drainage

Published: May 1, 2006

Joseph Ryan, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and former graduate student Alice Wood were honored for their roles in helping to clean up acid mine drainage in northwestern Boulder County.

The two are members of the Lefthand Watershed Revitalization Team, which was awarded the Environmental Protection Agency's 2006 National Notable Achievement Award last month in Washington, D.C. The team of local, state and federal stakeholders was led by Kathryn Hernandez of EPA Region 8.

Over the last four years, Ryan led more than a dozen graduate and undergraduate students in conducting an environmental analysis of acid mine drainage for the Lefthand Watershed Oversight Group. Their analysis found metal contamination including copper, zinc and lead in Lefthand Creek and traced it back to historic mines in the area.

Wood, who earned her master's degree in civil and environmental engineering at CU-Boulder in 2004, assisted with the analysis and served as coordinator of the Lefthand Watershed Oversight Group.

"The assessment and analysis were based on sound science, which allowed the various stakeholders to have confidence in the results and summary provided by CU-Boulder," Hernandez said.

As a result of the group's work, the EPA initiated a Superfund cleanup of the Captain Jack Mill near Ward and the Burlington Mine near Jamestown was cleaned up under the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's Voluntary Cleanup program. Cleanups of seven additional mines are beginning this year.

Ryan is now leading students in an environmental analysis of Coal Creek in Crested Butte after receiving a request for assistance from a watershed stakeholder group in that area.

Support for both CU-Boulder projects was provided by the CU-Boulder Outreach Committee, a National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates grant and the EPA. That initial support has led to more than $8 million in planning, assessment and remedial action funding for the Lefthand Creek watershed through cleanup programs and grants.