Will Reclamation take responsibility?
February 19, 2008
LEADVILLE At a Feb. 19 a public meeting, Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel (LMDT) stakeholders spoke to a crowd of people so large that they had to be moved to the 6th Street Gym. There, representatives reiterated previous commitments to work on the issues with the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel but stopped short of making any new promises.Meanwhile, the City of Leadville was told by Travelers’ Insurance that its liability insurance will be rescinded as of April 1. Leadville Mayor Bud Elliott is concerned about the fact that he was never warned about the Declaration of a State of Emergency. Real estate agents are fielding calls from worried buyers and sellers. And residents at the Village at Lake Fork are very nervous: at Tuesday’s meeting, a resident invited officials to come sleep in her house for one night.They’re living in panic right now, said her translator. Bureau of Reclamation officials did their best to calm fears, reiterating Reclamations commitment to treating water from the mine pool on a short-term, interim basis. However, according to Donald Moomaw, Reclamation has no responsibility for reducing water going into the mine pool by pumping the Canterbury Tunnel or the Gaw Shaft.CDPHE Remedial Programs Manager Jeff Deckler insisted that Reclamation needs to take responsibility for the mine pool.We think the bureau has traditionally viewed their responsibility as being the tunnel or the treatment plant. We would like to see that expanded so they’re responsible for managing the pool, he explained.The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promised to begin pumping the Gaw Shaft within the next few days, in order to reduce groundwater. It also reiterated a commitment to install pumps in the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel and convey water to the LMDT Treatment Plant as soon as possible.Superfund Remedial Program Director Bill Murray said that his boss was in Washington this week to procure funding for the pump system. Near the end of the meeting, Mike Wireman, an EPA Groundwater Expert who performed a study on the LMDT in 2005-2006, was asked about the risk of a major event with the tunnel.In my professional judgment I would not characterize the risk as high, but I would not characterize it as low either. Keep in mind, you cant get in this tunnel. Everything weve done, weve done remotely, he responded.In the end, Wireman suggested that parties start to put some plans in place. Pumping the tunnel and eventually building a plug for it would likely be a two-season effort, he said.[Pumping the water] is the only fix that will ever work, said Wireman.But LMDT Treatment Plant manager Brad Littlepage, who pointedly spoke as a citizen on my own time, was impatient with all the talking.Isn’t it time to take care of this issue now? he asked. The citizens here want to hear pumping.Katie Redding is the reporter for The Leadville Chronicle. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
World War II: To help drain local mines of water, the Bureau of Mines begins building the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel (LMDT). 1959: The Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) purchases the tunnel as a possible source of water. 1960-1980: A series of collapses begin to plug the tunnel. Water begins building up in a mine pool. 1992: A Sierra club lawsuit concerned about the discharge of contaminated water from the tunnel prompts the construction of the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel Treatment Plant.2002: Due to concerns that a tunnel blowout could negatively impact residents of the nearby Village at East Fork, Reclamation installs an audible warning system to alert nearby residents to an emergency. The system plays a message in English and Spanish. 2003: To help residents evacuate, Reclamation builds a secondary egress road from the Village at East Fork to Hwy 24. 2005: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designs a solution to drain the mine pool and estimates its cost at between $4.035 and $4.520 million. The solution is never implemented. 2005: A presumed collapse in the Canterbury Tunnel causes more water to flow into the mine pool. The mine pool begins to grow.2006: New springs arise in California Gulch. Scientists begin to think that some of the water trapped behind the tunnel is making its way to California Gulch and coming out of the ground below the Yak Treatment Plant. Summer 2007: Two events occur in the tunnel. During each event, there is a decrease in flow and an increase in turbidity. August 2007: The metal loadings in the LMDT drop considerably, causing the Lake County Commissioners to surmise that the blockage is worsening. Oct. 19, 2007: The Lake County Commissioners call a meeting to discuss concerns about the LMDT with all federal and state agencies involved. Nov. 8, 2007: Robert Robert, the EPA Region 8 Regional Administrator, writes a letter to Michael Ryan, the Regional Director for Reclamation’s Great Plains Region. In it, he expresses the EPA’s concern that an uncontrolled, potentially-castastrophic release of water to the Arkansas River from the LMDT is likely at some point. Nov. 15, 2007: The Lake County Commissioners send a letter expressing their concern to their congressional delegation and government officials in all potentially affected areas. Feb. 4, 2008: Senator Ken Salazar writes a letter to Robert Johnson, the Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation. In the letter, he requests a detailed report of their investigation into the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel blockage.Sources: Lake County Board of County Commissioners, LMDT Treatment Plant Manager Brad Littlepage, SourceWater Consulting report, Reclamation Community Safety Plan and press release, letters from Sen. Salazar, Sen. Wiens, Gov. Ritter and EPA Regional Administrator Robert Robert.