Colorado, Coors Settle Lawsuit

Dec. 27, 2001
The Colorado Division of Wildlife and Coors Brewing Company have agreed on a settlement of last year's accidental spill into Clear Creek that includes the construction of a wetlands project that could be a model for wetlands designed to improve water quality and wildlife habitat.

As part of the settlement reached, Coors will design, build, manage and help evaluate a new pilot constructed wetland for at least two years. The wetland will be located at the point where treated wastewater is released from the Golden brewery into Clear Creek. Coors will monitor the wetland to determine its effectiveness and ability to improve water quality, and provide information to state biologists. That information could be made available for use in the design of future wetlands projects in other areas.

After evaluating the pilot wetlands with Division biologists, Coors also will determine if the wetland should be maintained and expanded as part of the company's wastewater treatment facility.

Coors has agreed to provide thousands of fish for stocking in Denver-area waters to improve urban fishing opportunities. The Division and Coors will decide on the number and species of fish next year.

Coors also will provide funding for two graduate students to participate in studies related to the pilot project.

The total value of the settlement to Colorado is more than $500,000, and could be much higher if the constructed wetlands project proves to be a model for efforts by others beyond the scope of the Coors pilot.

"We're pleased with this agreement, especially the opportunity to work with Coors on a wetlands project that has the potential to improve stream quality for Clear Creek and other streams," said Division Director Russ George. "The wetlands project has the potential to benefit Colorado's waterways and fisheries for decades to come. In addition, this agreement will provide more fish for urban waters by next year."

Coors has already made changes to its facility operations to reduce the chance of similar spills. The company previously reached agreement with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for wastewater discharge permit violations.

"We're pleased to work with the Division of Wildlife on this project," said John Schallenkamp, Coors vice-president of Engineering and Technical Services. "As a Colorado company with roots in this state, we believe this agreement will benefit Colorado's natural resources, our company and Coloradans."

Schallenkamp added, "Coors recognizes the importance of wetlands to the Division, particularly because of the wildlife habitat they provide and because of environmental benefits associated with the possible use of constructed wetlands in place of alternative treatments of wastewater effluent."

The spill occurred Aug. 24, 2000, when high-gravity beer was accidentally released from the brewery to the Coors wastewater treatment facility and subsequently into Clear Creek, removing oxygen from the stream and killing thousands of fish. Division aquatic biologists determined that the spill had a short-term impacton Clear Creek and did not cause permanent harm to the stream. Aquatic species in the creek began to naturally repopulate the area shortly after the spill occurred.

State law sets penalties for those found to be responsible for fish kills. The Division and Coors disagreed on the number of fish killed by the spill, resulting in lengthy negotiations. Determining the exact number of fish killed in accidents can be difficult depending on steam flow, legal access and climate.

Last August, the Division filed suit in Jefferson County District Court over the spill. Discussions between Coors and the Division continued, resulting in today's agreement.

"When fish kills occur, our goal is an agreement that results in recovery of the stream and aquatic species to levels that occurred prior to the spill, improvements to aquatic habitat and fisheries, and to see that steps are taken to prevent such spills from reoccurring," George said. "This settlement allows us to achieve all of our goals. We are particularly pleased that this pilot wetlands project could result in improved water quality for Clear Creek and many other Colorado waterways."

The Coors wetland will provide for treatment of approximately 250,000 gallons of wastewater effluent daily.

The goal of the constructed wetland project is to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus from treated wastewater. Submerged wetlands, including different types of plants and soil, will be evaluated, including the ability of the wetland to dechlorinate wastewater effluent.

"This is a great concept," said Division aquatic biologist John Woodling, a veteran of more than 25 years in stream water quality evaluations. "There are many wetland designs to reduce nutrient levels from wastewater, and Coors' pilot project may provide valuable information on which designs are best.

"This will be an interesting project to participate in and I look forward to being involved in the monitoring."

Source: Colorado Daily

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