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Central Colorado Assessment Project

Project Objectives

Photo of abandoned mine land site.
Mitigation of Abandoned Mine Lands - Accurate geologic maps provide a critical framework to study the environmental effects of abandoned mined lands. Such studies are conducted by the USGS Minerals Team in partnership with the National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Program.

The Front Range urban corridor in Colorado, one of the fastest-growing regions in the western U.S., stretches about 350 km from Pueblo in the south, through Denver, north to the Colorado-Wyoming border. This population growth has put tremendous pressure on a variety of resources and has created many land management issues for local, state, and federal government agencies. Future land use planning in this area requires geoscience information that can be obtained through studies that lie at the core of the Mineral Resources, Energy Resources, National Cooperative Geologic Mapping, Water Resources, and Landslides Hazards Programs, and supports the process-oriented research objectives of the USGS. These issues require new and focused earth science studies of: (1) mineral and energy resources, (2) geologic hazards, such as landslides and stream flooding, (3) the long-term effects of forest fires on erosion and sedimentation, (4) the effects of increased recreational land use, and (5) quantity and quality of both ground- and surface-water resources.

The long-term goal of the project was to provide comprehensive geoscience data and interpretations that will allow federal, state, and local land management entities to make informed land-use decisions in central Colorado. Addressing these issues required accurate and up-to-date earth science data including: 1) state-of-the-art digital geologic maps, 2) surficial, water, and bedrock geochemistry, 3) topical and regional studies of water, mineral, and energy resources, 4) regional geophysical data sets, 5) remote sensing data, 6) geochronology. These data are digital and regional in scope and integrated into compatible GIS layers. These comprehensive earth science data were used to improve our understanding of the availability of mineral and energy resources, the geochemical and environmental effects of historic mining activity on surface and ground water, the geoenvironmental effects of wildfires, geologic controls on groundwater availability and quality, and geologic hazards, such as landslides and stream flooding.

One of the principal land-management agencies in the area, the U.S. Forest Service, requested studies of four National Forests in the study area in support of their cyclic planning efforts. These new studies are particularly important for the management of all federal lands in the study area, including those managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Specific issues on federal lands are (1) fire mitigation and the treatment of burned lands (Grand County will be used as a test area), (2) erosion management, (3) slope stability, (4) mitigation of the environmental effects of abandoned mined lands, (5) ground water availability, (6) aggregate resource availability, and (7) assessment of mineral and energy resources.

This project focused on data gathering and integration and data interpretation as they relate to long-term resource planning by land-managing entities in Central Colorado. Project activities also provided geologic, geochemical, geophysical and remote-sensing data and interpretations in support of fire science, water resources, and geologic hazards studies in the study area.

Relevance & Impact

Photo of landscape with pine-bark beetle damaged trees.
Fire Science - The devastation of our forest lands by the pine-bark beetle has subjected vast regions to increased risk of castastrophic wild fire, especially west of the Continental Divide. Geoloigic maps are used to assess soil characteristics that might affect post-fire debris flows and intense erosion. This photo shows the northern Williams Range Mountains where beetles have killed more than 80 percent of mature lodgepole pine over many square kilometers.

The public lands in the study area are experiencing a rapid increase in recreational use as the population of the region increases and residences and vacation homes are built in the mountains west of the Front Range Urban Corridor. This population pressure increases the relevance of scientific information and interpretations on issues such as ground- and surface-water quality and availability, post-wildfire erosion, and landslide hazards. The need for mineral resources, especially industrial minerals and aggregate in response to population growth in the Front Range Urban Corridor, is extreme. The comprehensive studies and interpretations provided by this project should aid land-management agencies and local governments to develop effective management plans to cope with this development and recreational pressure.

Specific examples of how data derived from the project were used by various agencies/customers outside the USGS are:

  1. The Winter Park West water and sanitation district, which includes the towns of Fraser and Winter Park, will be financing a study of the availability and quality of ground water resources in Winter Park-Fraser area, which is experiencing extremely rapid urban growth. The study will be undertaken by Professor Shemin Ge, hydrologist at the Department of Geological Sciences, University of Colorado at Boulder, and her student. The recent mapping of the Fraser quadrangle by Ralph Shroba and others is crucial to this study. A meeting held with the managers of the water and sanitation district, attended by Ge, Kellogg and Shroba, resulted in a cooperative study with the University of Colorado and the USGS for the Winter Park-Fraser water and sanitation district.
  2. In April, 2003, the Jefferson County Planning Office requested a review by Karl Kellogg of the geologic hazards component of the Jefferson County Plan (Jefferson County encompasses a large, heavily urbanized area west of Denver) specifically: the North Plains, Central Plains, and the Evergreen area.
  3. The 2004 publication "Guide to roadside geologic exploration around Estes Park, Colorado" by J.C. Cole received high acclaim from the National Park Service (it also received a "First Place award" from the Association of Earth Science Editors) and is on sale at the Rocky Mountain National Park Visitor Center.
  4. The Geological Society of America (GSA) field trip guide "Anatomy of a Laramide uplift" by Karl Kellogg and others, written to accompany a field trip run during the 2004 annual GSA meeting in Denver, outlines recent research in the Colorado Front Range, including the evolution of the Proterozoic basement, the contrasting styles of Laramide deformation on the east and west sides of the range, and the economic geology of several mining districts in the Colorado mineral belt.
  5. New 1:100,000 geologic maps (Estes Park and Denver West) and digital databases (nominal 1:100,000) compiled for the rest of the study area were used by Colorado State University graduate student Travis Schmidt to define the control that bedrock type has on riparian biology and water quality. His study is being continued as a Mendenhall fellow with the USGS in order to develop environmental assessment criteria for public land managers.
  6. GIS/land planning groups in the twenty-six counties within the study area were contacted to update them on the scope of the project and project products that will cover their respective counties. All of the counties were extremely interested in recieving/using any digital geologic information that was at a scale less than 1:500,000 because the digital version of the State Geologic map (Tweto, 1979) comprised their only digital geologic database. Most were interested in information on geologic hazards, engineering properties, surficial geology, structural data and bedrock characteristics.

Project Chiefs:

Terry Klein
Phone: (303) 236-5605
Email: tklein@usgs.gov

Karl Kellogg
Phone: 303) 236-1305
Email: kkellogg@usgs.gov

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