Summitville superfund site: New water treatment plant dedication last Friday

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From The South Fork Tines:

“I want to thank the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for providing funding to complete the new water treatment plant at Summitville,” said Chris Urbina, executive director and chief medical officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “This project provided more than a 100 construction jobs in this area, and significantly improved water quality, restoring fish and aquatic life to the Alamosa River and Terrace Reservoir,” he said…

In May 2009, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was awarded more than $16 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and construction of the 1600-gallon-per minute water treatment plant began on Sept. 14, 2009. The plant will remove contaminants from acidic metals-contaminated mine drainage before the water leaves the site and enters the headwaters of the Alamosa River, which flows into the Rio Grande. Funds from the act are paying 90 percent of this remedial action; the department is paying the remaining 10 percent.

Gold and silver mining began at Summitville around 1870. Large-scale, open-pit mining began at the site in 1984. The mine operator, Summitville Consolidated Mining Corp., Inc., used cyanide heap leaching to extract precious metals from the ore. In this process, ore excavated from the mountain was crushed and placed onto the clay- and synthetic-lined heap leach pad. A sodium cyanide solution was then applied to leach out gold and silver.

Almost immediately after the heap leach pad was constructed in 1986, a leak was detected. In December 1992, the company abandoned the site and announced it was filing for bankruptcy. EPA immediately assumed responsibility of the site as an emergency response, avoiding a significant environmental disaster. On May 31, 1994, Summitville was placed on EPA’s National Priorities List of Superfund sites.

Since 1992, EPA and the department have conducted several interim projects designed to slow the amount of acid mine drainage coming from the site. These interim projects included: 1) detoxifying, capping and revegetating the heap leach pad; 2) removing waste rock piles and filling the mine pits; 3) plugging the adits or underground mine entrances; and 4) expanding the water runoff holding ponds and operating a water treatment plant on site. The new water plant, dedicated today, replaces one built several years ago.

More Summitville Mine superfund site coverage here and here.

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