Surmounting the snow pile
City works to address snow pile concerns

SideStory: Steep snow removal – Durango faces mounting costs

“Mount Durango,” aka the city’s snow-storage site at Cundiff Park, looms large this week. The pile site alongside the Animas River, giving rise to concerns over pollution. The city has worked to address the issues, building berms and adding settling ponds. River sampling taken last March showed the pile’s run-off to be within acceptable Safe Drinking Water Act limits./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

by Missy Votel

As the giant mound at the city of Durango’s snow-storage site at Cundiff Park begins to melt, it also gives rise to worries over water quality. The 17-acre snow storage site just south of town, which the city has been using for the last eight years, sits adjacent to the Animas River. And come springtime, Mount Durango, as some locals have taken to calling it, creates a steady stream of murky brown run-off that concerns residents and river advocacy groups alike.

“I applaud the City’s snow removal team and recognize they do a great job during large snow events. However, there are certainly water-quality issues related to the current snow storage location(s),” said Ty Churchwell, former president of the Five Rivers Chapter of Trout Unlimited and member of the Animas River Task Force.

He is not alone in his feelings. Last winter, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe sent the City of Durango a letter outlining its concerns over the snow pile’s run-off. “The Southern Ute Indian Tribe is concerned with the environmental impact to the Animas River, an important shared resource, resulting from the City’s use of Cundiff Park for snow storage,” the letter, signed by Tribal Chairman Michael Box stated. The letter went on to detail concerns over “urban pollutants” draining directly into the river, just 2 miles from the Reservation boundary. Of particular worry were high levels of sodium, chloride, oil and grease, and metals such as lead, magnesium, iron and chromium affecting the Animas’ Gold Medal trout fishery.

However, the City is not oblivious to the problem, said Director of Public Works Jack Rogers. In light of last year’s letter, the City agreed to water-quality sampling above, at and below the snow-storage site. The tests were conducted at two different times, on March 1 and again on March 31, 2009. “What we found is that the run-off is within the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment regulations,” said Rogers. Of the 11 constituents that were sampled, all were found to be well within established Safe Drinking Water Act levels.

The City also went a step further, by researching how other places, from Minnesota to Jackson, Wyo., handle snow storage, Rogers said. “We decided what we do is in accordance with what is required in other states,” he said.

In addition to removing the obvious suspects – beverage containers, trash and the like – by hand, the city builds berms around the pile to reduce discharge of pollutants. Last year, it also added another settling pond to trap sediment, bringing the total capacity to 40 cubic yards. In addition, dump trucks use a citrus-based solution to line the truck beds instead of petroleum products.

Rogers admits the system is not perfect but sufficient given the situation. “It doesn’t make what goes into the river absolutely clean, but it’s a lot different from what we used to do,” he noted. Up until 10 years ago, snow was commonly dumped directly into the river along Roosa Avenue.

A city dump truck makes another round. About 5,000 truckloads have been brought to the mound./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

Janet Wolf, coordinator for the Animas Watershed Partnership, agreed that Cundiff is not the ideal place for a snow-storage site, but said the group is generally pleased with the City’s handling of the situation. “The snow pile probably is not in the perfect spot, but I appreciate Jack addressing the issues,” said Wolf. The Animas Watershed Partnership was formed in 2002 to address perceived nutrient load on the Animas River from Baker’s Bridge to its confluence with the San Juan River, in New Mexico. It is made up of various individuals and representative stakeholders from Durango, New Mexico, and the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes. The group’s mission is to protect and improve water quality in the Animas, and it expects to have a watershed management plan completed by June. The plan will focus on water quality and non-point source pollution, such as sediment, pesticide, and agricultural and residential run-off.

“Per the City’s sampling, the bottom line is, pollution is not a problem at that location and the City does have best management practices in place,” Wolf said. “I think everyone on the AWP felt satisfied with what (Jack and Kinsey Holton, city engineer) came up with.”

Churchwell, with Trout Unlimited, also said his group values its ongoing relationship with the City. “We are working with the Parks and Recreation staff to help mitigate water quality concerns and river-use issues,” he said. “A new Cundiff Park plan is in the works and is currently being designed with the help of the Task Force. This alone will require a relocation of snow storage to a more appropriate and, hopefully, less sensitive location away from the river corridor.”

Indeed, in the City’s draft Parks, Open Space and Trails master plan, released Monday, there are plans to develop Cundiff Park. However, City Director of Parks and Recreation Cathy Metz said the Cundiff improvements, which are estimated to cost $2.4 million, are currently not in the 10-year picture. However, she noted that could change given a rising tide of public interest in the parcel. “Right now we’re trying to get input from the community,” said Metz of the draft, which is open for public comment until April 2 and available for view on the City’s website. “We’ll see how the community reacts to the list. Cundiff could float back up to the top. Now, it’s currently not.”

As for estimates on when Mount Durango finally floats away, Rogers is not overly optimistic. As of Monday, the pile had accumulated 4,900 dump truck loads, or 42,000 cubic yards of snow. That’s already 30 percent more than last year at this time and more than five times more than 2006. “The pile is measured in terms of when it’s going to be gone. Usually it’s May or June. This year, it’s an August pile.”



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