Colorado River floodwaters reach UMTRA site; tailings pile is safe, officials say
by Rudy Herndon
Staff Writer
Jun 05, 2014 | 2573 views | 0 0 comments | 53 53 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Colorado River spilled out of its banks last week, flooding a section of the Moab UMTRA cleanup site located adjacent to the river and Moab Wash. Officials said floodwaters had encroached further inland this week but a series of protective berms built to prevent water from reaching the radioactive tailings pile are working. Photo courtesy of the Department of Energy
The Colorado River spilled out of its banks last week, flooding a section of the Moab UMTRA cleanup site located adjacent to the river and Moab Wash. Officials said floodwaters had encroached further inland this week but a series of protective berms built to prevent water from reaching the radioactive tailings pile are working. Photo courtesy of the Department of Energy
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The Colorado River overflowed its banks last week and crossed a cleaned-up section of the Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action (UMTRA) site. But officials say that improvements to the property have kept floodwaters away from the tailings pile.

Grand County UMTRA Liaison Lee Shenton noted that the pile itself is protected by a series of three berms that have been designed to keep floodwaters away from potentially radioactive materials.

“They’re all working the way they expected them to,” Shenton said June 3.

A 20-acre area along the river north of the Moab Wash was remediated in early 2011 after floodwaters spilled into that section of the former uranium mill site, raising concerns among some local citizens about the need for further flood protections. That site has since been recontoured to allow for more gradual flooding, which minimizes the river’s erosive force, according to Shenton.

“The project hydrogeologist told me that that was actually part of the plan,” Shenton said. “It doesn’t create wetlands, but it creates a more natural floodplain.”

The Colorado River Basin Forecast Center is projecting that river will crest at about 39,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) some time later this week. That compares to peak flows of nearly 49,000 cfs in 2011 – the last time that the river spilled onto the UMTRA site.

River flows at the closest official gauging station near Cisco were up to 37,200 cfs by 8 a.m. on June 3, according to provisional date from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). By mid-afternoon on June 4, those flows had decreased to 35,700 cfs, the USGS reported.

Runoff from above-average precipitation in the mountains of west-central Colorado is feeding the flows. Releases from dams on the Colorado, Gunnison and Dolores rivers are also boosting water levels, according to Wendee Ryan, public affairs manager for the S&K Moab TAC Team, which is a contractor to the U.S. Department of Energy.

For the latest information on flooding at the UMTRA site, go to: http://www.gjem.energy.gov/moab/project_docs/river_flooding.html.

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