Experts widening the scope of treatment options for acid mine drainage at the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — As scientists continue to study water pollution in the Snake River, they’re finding that a cleanup may cost much more than previously estimated. A couple of years ago, experts said they could build a treatment facility for about $1 million to remove some of the toxic metals oozing from abandoned mines high in the drainage.
But last summer, those estimates soared to as high as $20 million, according to Trout Unlimited’s Liz Russell, one of the many stakeholders working on the vexing water pollution issues in the Snake River Basin.
The river is tainted by acid mine drainage from numerous sources, including the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine, tabbed as one of the main contributors of acid mine drainage. Water seeps through the tunnels of the mine and pick up significant amounts of heavy-metal pollution, leading to water quality problems farther downstream.
In some stream segments, Concentrations of zinc exceed state limits and are high enough to kill trout within a few days. The long-term goal for stakeholders is to try and mitigate the pollution to the point that trout can survive and possibly even reproduce in the Snake River.
In the last few years, the EPA has taken on a lead role the cleanup, bringing enough money to the table to fund a robust research effort.
“All the work that’s been done up there paints a much more dire picture of what we need to do,” Russell said.
In 2009, some of the research at mine focused on the possibility of treating other sources of pollution in the area besides the mine itself. State and federal experts are teaming up to find sites for mine-waste repositories. Moving the old crushed rock away from the water could help reduce metals-loading into Peru Creek.
Summit Water Quality’s Lane Wyatt said he’s been working with state and federal agencies to obtain grant funding for a related cleanup project in nearby Cinnamon Gulch. That work would also involve moving old waste rock from the mine, and channelizing runoff to reduce contamination.
Technical experts will also try to see if there’s a way to prevent clean water from getting into the mine and picking up pollution. That could reduce the amount of treatment ultimately needed at the outflow, Wyatt said.
“The focus was on discharge from the mine adit,” said the EPA’s Jean Mackenzie, referring to the primary point of discharge. “There are so many other things that can be done,” she said.
It’s not clear whether comprehensive treatment at the mine site will clean up the water to the point that the Snake River can sustain trout. A recently completed watershed study suggested that there are so many other sources of pollution, including natural ones, that the river may never be free of toxic heavy metals.
Filed under: Environment, public lands, Summit County Colorado Tagged: | acid mine drainage, conservation, Environment, Keystone, Pennsylvania Mine, Peru Creek, public lands, rivers, Snake River, water pollution