#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.

Summitville Mine Superfund Site update: #Colorado to take over project for $2 million a year

Summitville Mine superfund site

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

After 27 years of EPA control, Colorado is preparing to take over the full financial burden — a forever bill for $2 million a year — of a high-mountain cyanide gold mine that became one of the West’s worst environmental disasters.

The re-shaping of ravaged alpine tundra at the Summitville Mine through a $250 million federal Superfund cleanup stands out because scores of other toxic mines in Colorado still are contaminating headwaters of western rivers each day.

But this fix requires constant work. Colorado must pay the $2 million, a bill that the EPA has been handling, starting in 2021 for cleaning a fluctuating flow of up to 2,100 gallons a minute of toxic water that drains down a once-pristine mountainside.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will use the money to run a silver-domed $18 million industrial water treatment plant built at 11,500 feet elevation in a wild and spectacular valley, surrounded by snow-splotched jagged peaks.

The plant houses huge stainless-steel vats of burbling brown sludge. Toxic metals are chemically coaxed and filtered out. Plant operators haul 4.1 million pounds a year of concentrated waste back up South Mountain (elevation 12,550 feet) in trucks for burial. This muck contains more than 690,000 pounds of cadmium, lead, copper, aluminum, iron, manganese and zinc. It is toxic metal that otherwise would flow down and degrade the Wightman Fork of the Alamosa River.

Colorado also must oversee the artificial covering and drainage ditches across 1,100 acres of tundra scarred by open-pit mining. Mountainsides ripped and slashed to remove gold and silver have been re-contoured by contractors using bulldozers, and re-planted with native vegetation — the engineering equivalent of plastic surgery to make the place look as good as possible…

The hand-off of responsibility for Summitville from the EPA to CDPHE in 2021 will mark a turning point in dealing with a severely damaged landscape using the nation’s Superfund system for handling disasters.

This project was set in motion before Congress in 1995 killed automatic funding for Superfund cleanups.

Complete restoration to a pre-existent state is considered impossible and the government aimed at best-possible repairs.

“That was what the EPA and the state worked to do: bring it back to a sustainable protected state. Once there is mining in an area, it has long-term impact,” said Fran Costanzi, an EPA official who managed the Summitville cleanup for four years. “We worked to bring water quality back and also the vegetation into a long-term stable state.”

An EPA spokesman issued a statement placing Summitville “among the more illustrious, or perhaps infamous, examples of the environmental damage a large mining operation can cause when resources for safely managing contamination sources disappear. The EPA’s initial response was an emergency situation in which the site was literally abandoned by the operator — in winter-time conditions — with a cyanide heap leach pad eroding into a headwaters stream.

“After years of work and investment, we’ve essentially reclaimed a watershed in one of the most beautiful parts of the state. Protecting those gains will continue to require our attention.”

Alamosa River. Photo credit: Wenck

The cleanup improved water quality to where fish can live in Terrace Reservoir, about five miles below the mine, and in the Alamosa River.

CDPHE officials now are required to monitor conditions.

The financial burden falls to Colorado because the Superfund process shifts responsibility to states after initial federal remediation. Colorado lawmakers have arranged to pay about $2 million a year by tapping revenue derived from fees paid at municipal and other landfills around the state…

At Summitville, Rio Grande County eventually will own the 1,100-acre site. State and county officials have been setting up placards conveying the history of mining in the area with an emphasis on environmental damage and evolving efforts to repair harm.

Colorado’s North Clear Creek & Tuthill

For 150 years, the North Clear Creek in Black Hawk, Colorado has been contaminated from historic mining. A new water treatment plant that came online in 2017 is removing 350lbs of heavy metals every day from the stream with the hopes of reestablishing a brown trout population. The facility uses Tuthill’s Blower Packages to aerate the water to remove the heavy metals more easily. Learn more about Tuthill’s products here: https://www.tuthillvacuumblower.com/i…

The facility was built and run by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Environmental Protection Agency. The Colorado Department of Transportation was integral to this project.

@EPA finds place near Silverton to store #GoldKingMine sludge #AnimasRiver

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

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

EPA officials announced last week that the agency has entered an agreement with a property owner who owns the Kittimac Tailings, a historic mine waste pile about six miles northeast of Silverton along County Road 2.

The EPA built a $1.5 million temporary water treatment plant north of Silverton in October, three months after the agency triggered the Gold King Mine blowout, which sent a torrent of mine waste down the Animas and San Juan rivers.

Since, the water-treatment plant has been treating and removing potentially toxic metals out of water that continues to discharge from the Gold King Mine. In April, the EPA said the mine was still leaking 450 gallons a minute.

The water treatment plant adds lime to the mine wastewater to raise the pH of the water so that dissolved metals become solid and can settle in settling ponds – a highly effective process.

The process, however, generates a lot of sludge. EPA has said an estimated 4,600 cubic yards of sludge is generated a year.

The agency had been storing this sludge waste product – which is considered non-hazardous – at the site of the water treatment plant in an area known as Gladstone, about six miles north of Silverton along County Road 110.

The EPA announced this spring, however, room was running out at Gladstone for the sludge…

Scott Fetchenheir, a San Juan County commissioner and former miner, said Wednesday local residents are pleased to learn the EPA found a better solution to the sludge waste issue.

“I think it’s a good idea,” he said. “But it’s almost like this big experiment.”

The EPA has said it will mix the Gold King Mine sludge with mine tailings located at Kittimac.

The EPA believes this will reduce high water content of the sludge, and will allow more efficient management, while at the same time immobilize heavy metals found in the tailings pile…

The EPA said it is conducting a bench-scale testing of the sludge and tailings mixture to ensure the maximum reduction of metals leaching from the tailings. The agency plans to conduct a pilot test of this transfer process for one week in mid-June.

The Kittimac tailings pile for years has been used illegally by dirt bikers and ATVers who have disregarded “no trespassing” signs to ride on the mine waste that looks like a pile of sand. Now that the EPA is using the site, access will be more guarded, Tookey said…

While the short-term problem of where to put the sludge is temporarily solved, Fetchenheir said there remains the larger, more complicated matter at hand: what to do for long-term treatment of the mines draining into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River considered the worst polluter in the headwaters.

While lime treatment plants are effective, they are also expensive to operate ($1 million a year) and have to be run in perpetuity. The EPA has yet to release its plan for long-term treatment options.

“It’s hugely open-ended,” Fetchenheir said. “The true hope is some new technology arrives that removes metals without generating a huge amount of sludge. But I haven’t seen anything like it.”

For now, the EPA said it will transfer the sludge via truck using the County Road 110 bypass. The agency said it hopes to reduce negative impacts, such as noise and dust suppression.

After the pilot test in June, the EPA will resume transferring the sludge to the Kittimac tailings after the tourist season, around early fall, for a duration of about five weeks.

Down ‘The River Of Lost Souls’ With Jonathan Thompson — Colorado Public Radio

From Colorado Public Radio (Nathan Heffel). Click through to listen to the interview:

A new book puts the Gold King Mine spill within the long history of mining and pollution in Southwest Colorado.

Jonathan Thompson will be at the Book Bar tonight. I wonder if Denver is a bit of a shock to his system even though he’s a sixth-generation Coloradan?

I am so happy to finally get to finally meet Jonathan. His new book, River of Lost Souls, is an important read. Understanding the industrialization of our state over the years will help us chart a less destructive course.

I loved the passages where Jonathan reminisces about spending time around the Four Corners and in the San Juans. He transports you to those times in your life spent next to the river or exploring what sights the land has to offer. He connects you to the Four Corners in a way that only a son of the San Juans could.

Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter

@EPA orders Sunnyside Gold Corporation to conduct groundwater investigation at Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site

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

Here’s the release from the Environmental Protection Agency (Andrew Mutter/Libby Faulk):

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today issued a unilateral administrative order to Sunnyside Gold Corporation to conduct groundwater investigation activities at the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund Site (BPMD) in San Juan County, Colo. Sunnyside Gold is a current owner and past operator of the Sunnyside Mine in the BPMD.

“EPA remains committed to advancing the investigation and cleanup of historic mining impacts in the Bonita Peak Mining District,” said EPA Regional Administrator Doug Benevento. “The assessment of groundwater in the area is a fundamental step in identifying effective cleanup options for the site and improving water quality in the upper Animas River watershed.”

EPA issued the order to Sunnyside Gold Corporation to conduct a remedial investigation of the Bonita Peak Groundwater System, designated as Operable Unit 3, within the larger BPMD. EPA is ordering the company to complete this work so the agency can identify surface water impacts from the groundwater system, assess the condition of existing bulkheads associated with the groundwater system, determine the hydrological interconnection of the various underground mine workings, and evaluate potential cleanup options at this portion of the site.

It is anticipated that the RI will be conducted as an iterative fashion using adaptive management principles to identify opportunities for early or interim response actions as information and data is developed during the RI.

EPA’s order requires this work to begin in 2018, with some identified items being completed by the end of the year. The company has an opportunity to request a conference with the EPA to discuss the order before it becomes effective.

Additional background:

The BPMD became a Superfund site on Sept. 9, 2016, when it was added to the National Priorities List. The site consists of historic and ongoing releases from mining operations in three drainages: Mineral Creek, Cement Creek and Upper Animas, which converge into the Animas River near Silverton, Colorado. The site includes 35 mines, seven tunnels, four tailings impoundments and two study areas where additional information is needed to evaluate environmental and human health concerns.

On Dec. 8, 2017, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt named the BPMD to a list of 21 Superfund sites across the nation which are receiving his immediate and intense attention.

For more information, please visit: http://epa.gov/superfund/bonita-peak.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

Figuring out where contaminated water flows through a maze of mining tunnels and natural cracks has emerged as a primary challenge for moving forward in one of the most ambitious toxic mining clean ups attempted in the West.

Sunnyside’s properties are included in the 48-site Bonita Peak Mining District cleanup launched in 2016 after the Gold King Mine spill that was accidentally triggered on Aug. 5, 2015 by EPA contractors investigating a collapsed portal…

Local officials have raised concerns that EPA officials are studying the problem to death without getting the actual clean up done.

The EPA on Thursday issued “a unilateral order” to Sunnyside, owned by Canada-based Kinross Corp., “to begin investigation of the Bonita Peak groundwater system,” said Rebecca Thomas, the Superfund project manager.

“We need to understand how water moves through the mining system — not only the man-made structures, the adits and stopes, but also how it moves through natural faults and fissures,” she said. “This is so we can understand how best to improve water quality in the tributaries of the Animas River.”

Sunnyside Gold Corp. will review the order, reclamation operations director Kevin Roach said.

“Sunnyside is not the cause of water quality issues in the Animas River and its activities in the area, including spending $30 million on reclamation over the past 30 years, have resulted in less metals in the Animas basin than would have otherwise been the case,” Roach said. “We are hoping that our remaining assets can be efficiently utilized in timely, proven and effective solutions to improve water quality rather than pointless studies or litigation.”

#AnimasRiver: U.S. Court of Appeals D.C. Circuit says @EPA followed the rules for Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund designation

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

Judges say EPA followed rules when including mining sites in cleanup area

The U.S. Court of Appeals D.C. Circuit issued the decision Tuesday to deny Sunnyside’s petition, which was filed by the mining company – a “potentially responsible party” in the Superfund cleanup – in December 2016.

Sunnyside had argued that of the 48 mining sites in the upper Animas River watershed the EPA included in the “Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund” site, 29 had not been properly evaluated and should be removed.

Sunnyside owns two of the 29 sites mentioned, including the Sunnyside Mine and the Mayflower tailings.

“We have no objections to there being a Superfund listing,” Sunnyside spokesman Larry Perino previously said. “The petition is only challenging the unlawful listing of sites that were not assessed at all under the EPA’s own Hazard Ranking System.”

Perino did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday afternoon.

However, the U.S. Court of Appeals D.C. Circuit decision says the EPA did act lawfully and within its own protocols in the Superfund process.

In determining whether the mining district around Silverton qualified for a Superfund listing, the EPA scored 19 pollution sources under the agency’s Hazard Ranking System.

Each of the sources received a high enough score that indicated pollution was bad enough to be eligible for a Superfund listing. As a result, EPA proposed the entire mining district, scored and unscored sources, should be listed.

The Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site was declared in September 2016.

Months later, Sunnyside argued the EPA was wrong to create a Superfund site that had unscored sources, claiming the EPA must score each contributing source of contamination before adding it to the broader Bonita Peak site.

But the court said text of the HRS process “alone is enough to refute this assertion,” which says a Superfund “may include multiple sources and may include the area between sources.”

“The BPMD is a site (comprised) of the 19 scored sources and the areas ‘between’ them, as the HRS explicitly permits,” the court said. “Sunnyside’s mine falls into the category of an ‘area between sources’ and therefore did not need to be scored.”

The court said: “Sunnyside’s real concern became apparent at oral argument. It claims its mine has been fully remediated and had no part in the present pollution of the site, but it may nevertheless be required to pay for some or all of the cleanup.”

Sunnyside Gold is considered the largest “potentially responsible party” in the district – a term the EPA uses for entities it considers financially on the hook for cleanup.