Superfund Update: June 2017

What’s going on?

This summer is the first full work season since the declaration of the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site last September. So what’s going on amidst those mountainous peaks to the north?

Summer 2017 Projects

  • Compiling and analyzing older data.
  • Mapping the dizzying array of mine tunnels.
  • Determining the volume of water inside mine workings, including installing a monitoring well into the American Tunnel.
  • Evaluating the stability of human-made dams, called bulkheads.
  • Studying the quality of water draining from mine adits, mountain seeps and springs.
  • Installing stream gauges to better understand the flow of water in the Upper Animas, Cement Creek, and Mineral Creek.
  • Installing a weather station to better understand water balance in the region – how much water flows into and out of the system.

The Superfund team is continuing their study of the complex mess of mine workings at the Animas River’s headwaters with special focus paid to understanding how water moves through the mountain and where cleanup efforts will be most effective.

While simple projects like diverting draining water away from tailings piles have already taken place, the team is hesitant to begin more complex projects before gaining a better understanding of the mountain’s hydrology. The closure of a bulkhead installed into the Red and Bonita Mine tunnel, for example, isn’t expected to occur until at least the Spring of 2018, and even then the closure will be done very carefully with attention paid to the build-up of water behind the bulkhead and to alternative pathways that water might take within the mountain. Basically if you plug a hole in one place, you could cause problems somewhere else, and the Superfund team wants to be as careful as possible.


The American Tunnel
One major project that is slated to take place this year is the drilling of a water monitoring well 500 feet into the American Tunnel. The American Tunnel travels about 11,000 feet into the mountain and currently drains about 100 gallons of acid mine water per minute. Installing a monitoring well will allow researchers to gain a better understanding of how much water is built up behind bulkheads in the tunnel and how that water is moving within the mountain.

The well is expected to be installed by August, and in the meantime, catchment ponds are collecting about 80 gallons of water per minute from the American Tunnel and redirecting that water to the temporary treatment plant at Gladstone. Along with American Tunnel water, the Gladstone plant continues to treat about 620 gallons of water per minute draining from the Gold King Mine site.

How’s the river doing?

Studies continue to show that the Animas River has returned to pre-Gold King spill conditions and there is no indication that the river poses a threat to human health.

Mountain Studies Institute (MSI) plays a key role in monitoring the health of the river. In addition to assisting the Superfund team with research at the Animas River’s headwaters, MSI is testing Animas River water weekly at Rotary Park in Durango throughout the summer and will be publishing results every Friday. Check it out!


Get Involved

We’ve been told the EPA’s Proposed Plan for early actions at the Superfund site will be released later this summer and will be followed by a 30-day public comment period. We’ll let you know when it comes out, provide an analysis and make it easy to comment through our website.

In the meantime, a community meeting is planned for Tuesday, July 25th, at 7pm at the Silverton Town Hall (1360 Greene St., Silverton, CO) where EPA’s Office of Research and Development will be discussing innovative technologies that could potentially be used at the Bonita Peak Mining District site.

Plans are also being developed to form a Citizens Superfund Workgroup in order to educate the public about the Superfund site and to develop a set of citizen’s goals for the complicated clean up of our river’s headwaters. The first meeting of the workgroup will be held the last week of August in Durango and we’ll be sure to let you know more details as they become available.

That’s all for now. Be sure to enjoy your Animas River this summer!

 

Check out our Animas River Webpage for more.

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