The Town of Rye has rights to some of the water in the Greenhorn Creek, but not enough rights to supply the whole town. The creek itself has much more water than the town can legally take. The town also has a well, and the well has a great enough flow rate to supply the whole town, but the water from the well is contaminated with super-high levels of radium, a radioactive metal that causes cancer and skin sores, among other harmful effects.
At the Rye Town Meeting on September 8, 2008, the board discussed the possibility of pulling as much water out of the Greenhorn Creek as is needed, and replacing it immediately downstream with an equal amount of well water. The net effect of the flow in the creek would be negligible, and the town is within its legal rights to do so. However, the Greenhorn Creek flows downhill into Lake Beckwith for use by Colorado City, so the Lake would see a higher concentration of radium. But because the water from the Creek is mixed with water from other sources in Lake Beckwith, the radium would be greatly diluted and shouldn’t be a problem for people using that water, according to John Van Oort, Water Commissioner with the Division of Water Resources.
An acceptable level of radioactivity in drinking water is 5 picoCuries per liter. The level of radioactivity coming out of the well in Rye is 160 picoCuries per liter. By the time the water is combined with other sources in Lake Beckwith, the radioactivity would be diluted to 1.6 picoCuries per liter, well within limits.
Radium is an element that is stored in the bones, similar to calcium. Radium displaces calcium, however, and the radioactivity causes cancer in the bones. Radium was discovered by Marie Curie, the famous scientist who conducted early radioactivity research, and is blamed for her premature death.
This article originally appeared in the September 24, 2008, edition of the Greenhorn Valley View.