From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):
Nobody wants Cotter Corp.’s re-routing of Ralston Creek to be permanent. Federal biologists say the pine-studded creek corridor through a picturesque canyon is habitat for the endangered Preble’s Jumping Mouse…
Cotter work crews on Monday were completing a 21-foot-deep concrete-and-steel structure designed to channel all surface and shallow groundwater through an 18-inch-diameter black plastic pipeline running 4,000 feet around the Schwartzwalder Mine, once the nation’s largest underground uranium mine. As a condition of its 10-year federal permit, Cotter must irrigate the creek corridor to ensure that trees and wildlife survive. “This is a temporary bypass that will allow us to do the permanent fix,” Cotter vice president John Hamrick said. “We really are trying to do the right thing here.”[…]
Cotter also has agreed to use excavators and seven sump pumps to remove uranium from contaminated groundwater near the mine’s 2,000-foot-deep shaft, where uranium levels top 24,000 ppb. The sump pumping and subsequent treatment of contaminated groundwater over the past 18 months has removed about 1 ton of uranium that otherwise could have flowed into metro drinking water. That uranium sits in a guarded facility here until it can be trucked to a radioactive-waste dump…
State mining inspectors say uranium-laced water inside the mine shaft “is finding other ways out of the mine pool” and into groundwater and the creek beyond the mine. “The only way to fix that,” [Loretta Pineda, director of Colorado’s Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety] said, “is to draw down the mine pool and treat it.”
Cotter favors a different approach. While Hamrick acknowledged there may be some underground pathways between the mine shaft and Ralston Creek, he and Cotter health physicist Randy Whicker on Monday said pumping toxic water out of the mine makes no sense.
Such a project would require construction of a large plastic-lined waste pond, with the cost likely to exceed $10 million, and perpetual pumping of groundwater that would continue to fill up the mine shaft and turn toxic through contact with exposed minerals.
Better, Cotter contends, would be to keep the super-toxic water inside the mine shaft and treat it in there. Mixing molasses and alcohol into uranium-laced water would cause bacteria already present inside the mine shaft to multiply, Hamrick and Whicker said. These bacteria would bond with uranium particles, separating uranium from water so that it could settle deep underground.