#AnimasRiver: “@EPA has a clear conflict of interest and has wrongfully targeted SGC (Sunnyside Gold Corp.) … (and) SGC will no longer be a pawn in this never-ending science project” — Kevin Roach

Prior to mining, snowmelt and rain seep into natural cracks and fractures, eventually emerging as a freshwater spring (usually). Graphic credit: Jonathan Thompson

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

Sunnyside Gold Corp. is refusing to carry out work ordered by the Environmental Protection Agency as part of the Superfund cleanup of mines around Silverton.

“Enough is enough,” Kevin Roach, with Sunnyside Gold, wrote in an email to The Durango Herald. “EPA has a clear conflict of interest and has wrongfully targeted SGC (Sunnyside Gold Corp.) … (and) SGC will no longer be a pawn in this never-ending science project.”

In June, the EPA ordered Sunnyside Gold to install five groundwater wells and two meteorological stations at mining sites around the headwaters of the Animas River as part of the investigation into the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site…

Sunnyside Gold has denied any responsibility but has been willing to work with the EPA in limited ways during the past three years. On Tuesday, however, Roach sent a letter to EPA staff saying Sunnyside Gold “declines to undertake the work,” arguing the company no longer has any liability for mining pollution issues in the Animas River watershed.

Peterson said Wednesday morning that EPA has not yet received the complete letter from Sunnyside Gold…

In 1996, Sunnyside Gold entered an agreement with the state of Colorado to install three plugs to stem the flow of acid drainage out of the American Tunnel, which served as the transportation route for ore, as well as mine runoff, from the Sunnyside Mine to facilities at Gladstone, north of Silverton.

By 2001, however, it was thought the water had backed up and reached capacity within the Sunnyside Mine network. Now, several researchers and experts familiar with the basin believe water from the Sunnyside Mine pool is spilling into adjacent mines, like the Gold King.

Sunnyside Gold, which was purchased by international mining conglomerate Kinross Gold Corp. in 2003, has adamantly denied that its mine pool is the cause of discharge from other mines, saying there is no factual evidence for the assertion.

Much of the work EPA ordered Sunnyside to do, however, seeks to gain more insight into the issue. EPA, too, intends to drill into the American Tunnel this month to better understand groundwater conditions in the area.

Earlier this year, Sunnyside Gold called for the EPA to be recused from leading the Superfund cleanup, arguing it is a conflict of interest for the agency to do so after it caused the blowout at the Gold King Mine in August 2015.

EPA’s Peterson said at the time the agency “will continue to require the company to take actions to ensure that financial responsibility for cleanup is not shifted to taxpayers.”

Update on #AnimasRiver water quality, Gold Medal Waters status

Screen shot of Animas River debris flow July 2018 aftermath of 416 Fire (CBS Denver).

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo) via The Cortez Journal:

Colorado has more than 300 miles of streams with Gold Medal status, which is intended to highlight the state’s rivers and creeks that provide outstanding fishing opportunities.

To qualify, a waterway must meet two criteria: have a minimum of 60 pounds of trout per acre and at least 12 trout measuring 14 inches or longer.

In 1996, a 4-mile stretch of the Animas River from the confluence of Lightner Creek down to the Purple Cliffs by Home Depot gained the Gold Medal tag and, ever since, has been marketed as a premier destination for fishing…

The water quality issues in the Animas are complex, said Jim White, an aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife based in Durango.

A combination of factors – heavy metals leeching from abandoned mines in the Animas headwaters around Silverton, above-average water temperatures, sediment loading and urban runoff – have had a detrimental impact on aquatic life.

As a result, fish in the Animas River are unable to naturally reproduce, and the waterway must rely on annual stocking of rainbow and brown trout by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

In 2014, the Animas River started showing signs it was not meeting Gold Medal criteria, when a fish survey found a disappearance of large, quality-size trout in the stretch.

It was thought aquatic life would take a devastating hit from the Gold King Mine spill in 2015, which sent an estimated 3 million gallons of mine wastewater down the Animas River. Ultimately, however, subsequent studies showed the tainted waters had no effect on fish.

But in 2018, “everything went to hell,” White said.

Fish and other aquatic life were already stressed from low flows and high water temperatures when torrential rains in July 2018 hit the burn scar of the 416 Fire, sending a torrent of black mud and ash down the Animas River, which killed most of the fish in the waterway downstream of Hermosa Creek.

White said it may take up to four years to again meet Gold Medal standards in the Animas as the river recovers. Still, there’s been no discussion about delisting the impaired waterway, he said…

…Scott Roberts, an aquatic biologist with Mountain Studies Institute, has said it generally takes one to 10 years for a watershed to recover after a wildfire, but because only a small percentage of the 416 Fire burned at high intensity, he expects the timeline for recovery to be on the short end.

And, many wildlife officials, like Japhet and White, are hopeful the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund cleanup of mines around Silverton will help with metal contamination issues. EPA spokeswoman Cynthia Peterson said the work in the Bonita Peak Mining District will reduce the frequency of elevated metals in the Animas River, as well as the pulses of metals the agency suspects are being released from the mines.

White said this year’s high runoff will do wonders for aquatic life in the long run. He said wildlife officials plan to stock the Animas this summer and early fall.

@EPA to drill into the American Tunnel to assess water levels and underground interconnections #AnimasRiver

American Tunnel Terry Portal via MinDat.org

From the Associated Press via Colorado Public Radio:

The EPA said it will drill into the American Tunnel next month to measure water levels and investigate how the passage is connected to other shafts.

The agency is looking for ways to stop or treat contaminated water pouring into rivers from old mine sites in the Bonita Peak Superfund area north of Silverton…

The EPA said it would follow strict safety guidelines when drilling the test well into the American Tunnel.

On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
Eric Baker

@EPA provides update on Bonita Peak Superfund site water treatment plant and sampling data — Global Mining Review #AnimasRiver

The EPA’s wastewater treatment plant near Silverton, Colorado, on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2015 — photo via Grace Hood Colorado Public Radio

From the EPA via Global Mining Review:

Yesterday, EPA released preliminary water quality sampling data related to the temporary shutdown of the interim water treatment plant at the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site at Gladstone (Colorado). EPA’s analysis confirms that there were no adverse impacts to downstream drinking water or agricultural users associated with the short-term shutdown of the plant based on data that indicate minimal to no changes in water quality at sampling points downstream of Silverton in Durango. There were no observed impacts to aquatic life. Any impacts to aquatic life would be limited to the Animas River near Silverton.

The water treatment plant went offline on the evening of 14 March due to extreme weather conditions resulting in a power surge that tripped critical circuit breakers at the facility. The same weather event triggered an avalanche and several snow slides across the county road and prevented access to the plant. After a period of less than 48 hours, EPA brought plant back online and resumed normal operations on the afternoon of 16 March.

“EPA appreciates the efforts of our partners in San Juan County Colorado and the water plant operators for working quickly to minimise the length of time the facility was out of operation and limit any localised impacts to water quality,” said EPA Regional Administrator Doug Benevento.

“During and after the treatment plant shutdown, real time measurements of turbidity, pH and electrical conductivity from sondes in the Animas River provided no indication that downstream water users would be adversely impacted,” said New Mexico Environment Department Chief Scientist Dennis McQuillan.

“EPA’s laboratory test results confirm the interpretation of real time sonde data.”

EPA collected water samples at four locations along the Animas River from Cement Creek to Durango from 15 – 21 March. A preliminary analysis of the sampling data from 15 – 20 March shows a measurable elevation of metals concentrations, particularly copper, at the confluence of Cement Creek and the Animas River, about six miles below Gladstone. Levels of metals were slightly elevated at a location on the Animas River approximately one mile south of Silverton.

Heavy metal concentrations in the Animas River at two sampling locations in Durango were well within the range of concentrations previously observed when the treatment plant is operating. The detections of low concentrations of metals in the Animas River may be associated with the temporary closure of the plant, but they may also be related to several other factors that should be considered when evaluating these data.

These include snow and avalanche debris being deposited in Cement Creek, the Animas River and local waterways which potentially introduced metals containing soils and sediments. There is also the potential for the ongoing rain and runoff at lower elevations to mobilise metals containing sediments from the 416 fire at locations below the confluence of Hermosa Creek and the Animas River.

Preliminary data can be viewed at https://response.epa.gov/GladstoneWTP. Data from samples collected on 21 March will available on this website later this week.

Mining industry water #pollution: “Having money immediately available from a responsible party would be a game changer” — Amanda Goodin

From The Associated Press (Matthew Brown) via The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Every day many millions of gallons of water loaded with arsenic, lead and other toxic metals flow from some of the most contaminated mining sites in the U.S. and into surrounding lakes and streams without being treated, The Associated Press has found.

That torrent is poisoning aquatic life and tainting drinking water sources in Montana, California, Colorado, Oklahoma and at least five other states.

The pollution is a legacy of how the mining industry was allowed to operate in the U.S. for more than a century. Companies that built mines for silver, lead, gold and other “hardrock” minerals could move on once they were no longer profitable, leaving behind tainted water that still leaks out of the mines or is cleaned up at taxpayer expense.

Using data from public records requests and independent researchers, the AP examined 43 mining sites under federal oversight, some containing dozens or even hundreds of individual mines.

The records show that at average flows, more than 50 million gallons (189 million liters) of contaminated wastewater streams daily from the sites. In many cases, it runs untreated into nearby groundwater, rivers and ponds — a roughly 20-million-gallon (76-million-liter) daily dose of pollution that could fill more than 2,000 tanker trucks.

The remainder of the waste is captured or treated in a costly effort that will need to carry on indefinitely, for perhaps thousands of years, often with little hope for reimbursement…

At many mines, the pollution has continued decades after their enlistment in the federal Superfund cleanup program for the nation’s most hazardous sites, which faces sharp cuts under President Donald Trump…

TAINTED WELLS

In mountains outside the Montana capital of Helena, about 30 households can’t drink their tap water because groundwater was polluted by about 150 abandoned gold, lead and copper mines that operated from the 1870s until 1953.

The community of Rimini was added to the Superfund list in 1999. Contaminated soil in residents’ yards was replaced, and the EPA has provided bottled water for a decade. But polluted water still pours from the mines and into Upper Tenmile Creek…

Estimates of the number of such abandoned mine sites range from 161,000 in 12 western states to as many as 500,000 nationwide. At least 33,000 have degraded the environment, according to the Government Accountability Office, and thousands more are discovered every year.

Officials have yet to complete work including basic risk analyses on about 80 percent of abandoned mining sites on federal lands. Most are controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, which under Trump is seeking to consolidate mine cleanups with another program and cut their combined 2019 spending from $35 million to $13 million.

PERPETUAL POLLUTION

Problems at some sites are intractable.

Among them:

— In eastern Oklahoma’s Tar Creek mining district, waterways are devoid of life and elevated lead levels persist in the blood of children despite a two-decade effort to clean up lead and zinc mines. More than $300 million has been committed since 1983, but only a small fraction of the impacted land has been reclaimed and contaminated water continues to flow.

— At northern California’s Iron Mountain Mine, cleanup teams battle to contain highly acidic water that percolates through a former copper and zinc mine and drains into a Sacramento River tributary. The mine discharged six tons of toxic sludge daily before an EPA cleanup. Authorities now spend $5 million a year to remove poisonous sludge that had caused massive fish kills, and they expect to keep at it forever.

— In Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, site of the Gold King blowout, some 400 abandoned or inactive mine sites contribute an estimated 15 million gallons (57 million liters) of acid mine drainage per day.

This landscape of polluted sites occurred under mining industry rules largely unchanged since the 1872 Mining Act.

State and federal laws in recent decades have held companies more accountable than in the past, but critics say huge loopholes all but ensure that some of today’s mines will foul waterways or require perpetual cleanups…

QUESTIONS OVER WHO SHOULD PAY

To date, the EPA has spent an estimated $4 billion on mining cleanups. Under Trump, the agency has identified a small number of Superfund sites for heightened attention after cleanup efforts stalled or dragged on for years. They include five mining sites examined by AP.

Former EPA assistant administrator Mathy Stanislaus said more money is needed to address mining pollution on a systematic basis, rather than jumping from one emergency response to another…

Democrats have sought unsuccessfully to create a special cleanup fund for old hardrock mine sites, with fees paid by the mining industry. Such a fund has been in place for coal mines since 1977, with more than $11 billion in fees collected and hundreds of sites reclaimed.

The mining industry has resisted doing the same for hardrock mines, and Republicans in Congress have blocked the Democratic proposals.

Montana Mining Association director Tammy Johnson acknowledged abandoned mines have left a legacy of pollution, but added that companies still in operation should not be forced to pay for those problems…

In 2017, the EPA proposed requiring companies still operating mines to post cleanup bonds or offer other financial assurances so taxpayers don’t end up footing cleanup bills. The Trump administration halted the rule, but environmental groups are scheduled to appear in federal court next month in a lawsuit that seeks to revive it.

“When something gets on a Superfund site, that doesn’t mean it instantly and magically gets cleaned up,” said Earthjustice attorney Amanda Goodin. “Having money immediately available from a responsible party would be a game changer.”

#AnimasRiver: Which was worse for water quality: #GoldKingMine spill or #416Fire floods? — The Durango Herald

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

Study compared metal loading in both events; results surprised researchers

A new report shows that runoff from the 416 Fire burn scar this summer dumped higher concentrations of potentially toxic metals into the Animas River than the Gold King Mine spill three years ago…

It has been a rough couple of years for the Animas River.

In August 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency accidentally caused the Gold King Mine, near Silverton, to blow out, sending 3 million gallons of toxic waste down the Animas River, turning it orange.

Then, this July, heavy rain fell over the 416 Fire burn scar in the Hermosa Creek drainage, just north of Durango, and sent a torrent of black mud, rocks and other debris down the Animas River.

After both events, Mountain Studies Institute, an environmental research and education nonprofit, extensively monitored and researched the impacts on aquatic life and water quality in the Animas River.

Though only a few months removed from the July floods, the preliminary data show the impacts of the Gold King Mine spill pale in comparison to the mudslides and debris flows from the 416 Fire burn scar.

Peter Butler with the Animas River Stakeholders Group said that point was made clear when the 416 Fire runoff caused nearly all the fish in the Animas River to die.

By comparison, there has never been any evidence that the tainted Gold King Mine water caused any die-off of aquatic life.

Roberts’ study backs this with data.

The study took samples at the height of the 416 Fire debris flows on July 17 and July 24 on the Animas River, near Rotary Park, and compared it to samples taken during the mine spill as it passed through the same spot Aug. 6 to Aug. 9, 2015.

#AnimasRiver: The @EPA releases results of three year water quality study #GoldKingMine

A “get well soon” balloon floats in the contaminated waters of the Animas River flowing through Durango on Monday afternoon August 10, 2015 — photo The Durango Herald, Shane Benjamin

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

The study looked at 200 river-water samples and almost 200 sediment samples, as well as more than 100 private wells from Durango to Silverton, testing for 13 different heavy metals and other possible contaminants, the health department said.

Some findings, according to San Juan Basin Public Health:

Water quality, except in Cement Creek, is better than the minimum standards set to protect aquatic life and human uses.

Additional sampling performed as part of this study revealed that natural variability in river flows produces occasional “spikes” in certain metals that may have been missed in less-frequent sampling.

Sediment in the Animas River, including beach sediment at six popular Durango recreation sites, poses no risk to human health if common-sense precautions are followed.

About one-quarter of Animas Valley drinking water wells had naturally-occurring bacteria present, and all wells should receive filtration or treatment.

About 5 percent of Animas Valley wells had more serious contamination from heavy metals, nitrates or other forms of bacteria. Heavy metal contamination in these wells arises from the natural geology of the Animas Valley aquifer.