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Know the West

Snowmaking and drought: a bad combination

  Researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder say that extended drought, coupled with mining pollution, could make for rocky winters at Colorado ski resorts. A recently released study published in the American Geophysical Union’s EOS Journal examines the Snake River Watershed in Summit County, Colo., where hotter weather threatens snow conditions at popular ski resorts such as Breckenridge and Keystone.

While resorts may turn to artificial snowmaking during dry winters, that brings its own problems. Water from the Snake and other rivers is contaminated with metals from abandoned mines — metals that are spread over ski runs and into other waterways when river water is used to make snow. Tapping clean creeks is better for the landscape, but it means pollution downstream will be more concentrated, and potentially worse for fish and wildlife.

The problem isn’t limited to Summit County. The Mineral Policy Center cites mining pollution as the country’s greatest water-quality problem, with 12,000 miles of rivers and streams contaminated nationwide. For a copy of the study, contact AGU’s Harvey Leifert at 202-777-7507 or [email protected]