Gold King Mine spill investigations start

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What really happened at the Gold King Mine? Photo via EPA.

EPA expects to have some answers within 60 days

Staff Report

FRISCO — Responding to congressional requests for an investigation into the Gold King Mine spill that fouled hundreds of miles of the Animas and San Juan rivers with toxic pollutants, the EPA’s Office of Inspector General this week announced that it will launch a full review of the disaster.

On Aug. 5, workers at the mine near Silverton triggered the release, sending about 3 million gallons of water laden with arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury surging downstream.

According to the official notice on the investigation, the OIG’s Office of Program Evaluation, Office of Audit, and Office of Investigations will all be involved.

And as pledged by EPA chief Gina McCarthy, there will also be an outside review, led by the U.S. Department of the Interior, aimed at assessing the factors that led to the Gold King Mine spill. According to the EPA, the results will be released to the public within 60 days.

In a prepared statement, the EPA said the goal of the independent review is to provide EPA with an analysis of the incident that took place at Gold King Mine, including the contributing causes.

Both investigations will help inform ongoing and planned site assessments, investigations, and construction or removal projects.

Environment: USGS study measures success of abandoned mine cleanups in Montana

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Abandoned mine cleanups can help clean up polluted streams, a new USGS study in Montana finds. 

Water quality improving in Upper Clark Fork Basin

Staff Report

FRISCO — There are hopeful signs that the ongoing cleanup of abandoned mines around the West will pay off.

The U.S. Geological Survey, reported decreased levels  of toxic heavy metals in the streams of Montana’s Upper Clark Fork Basin that have been targeted by remediation efforts. Continue reading

The news roundup

Weekly news roundup by Summit Voice editor Bob Berwyn.

Weekly news roundup by Summit Voice editor Bob Berwyn.

Public lands, climate, environment …

FRISCO — I had a chance to work on a half-dozen interesting stories the past 10 days as a freelancer for the MSN internet news channel, including a short piece on a Colorado town that considered a drone-hunting ordinance, and some food news about new rules that will encourage healthier food at national parks across the country.

The surge in requests for concealed weapons permits in Colorado was also big news across the country early in the month, while the states along the Lower Colorado River may be preparing for reduced water deliveries.

In environmental news, U.S. Geological Survey scientists explained how the country could store 500 years of CO2 emissions in rock formations 3,000 feet down, while federal wildlife officials have been accused of stacking the deck against gray wolves.

Summit Voice public lands coverage:

Wilderness conservation is at issue in Colorado, where several lawmakers have introduced measures to create new wilderness areas repeatedly in the last few years. But that effort has been bottled up behind a partisan divide in Congress. Will there be some movement this session? More than 1 million acres are at stake. Continue reading

Colorado lawmakers aim to create a good samaritan program under the Clean Water Act for abandoned mine cleanups

Bipartisan push could speed remediation projects

Pennsylvania Mine, Summit County Colorado.

The abandoned Pennsylvania Mine is the source of heavy metal pollution in Peru Creek and the Snake River. bberwynphoto.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A few months after the EPA unveiled new regulatory guidance for abandoned mine remediation, a bipartisan pair of Colorado lawmakers launched a new push to speed cleanups.

The new law proposed by Senator Mark Udall and Congressman Scott Tipton would give Good Samaritan groups additional binding legal safeguards they need to remediate the sites and clean up tainted streams. There are more than 7,000 abandoned hard rock mine sites located in Colorado and thousands more throughout the West.

“Runoff from abandoned mines throughout Colorado and the West threaten our water quality, wildlife and local economies. This common-sense, bipartisan legislation will further unleash so-called Good Samaritan groups and allow them to help address this problem,” Udall said. Continue reading

Colorado: Pennsylvania Mine cleanup set to begin

EPA removal action aims to reduce acid mine drainage at polluted site

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The ruins of the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine.

USGS and EPA experts sample soils near the Pennsylvania Mine.

USGS and EPA experts sample soils near the Pennsylvania Mine.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — After years of study, state and federal mine reclamation experts say they’re ready to try and reduce the amount of tainted water oozing out of the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine, in Summit County, Colorado.

The old mining site high in the Peru Creek drainage above Keystone has been identified as a key source of toxic heavy metals that impair water quality for miles downstream. Concentrations of lead, cadmium, managanese and especially zinc exceed standards set to protect aquatic life in the stream.

The mine operated between 1879 and 1908, and intermittently through the 1940s, producing gold, silver, lead, copper and zinc. As water and oxygen interact with the highly mineralized rocks, so-called acid mine drainage forms, loading the stream with dissolved heavy metals. Continue reading

Colorado: Peru Creek cleanup to hit high gear

Agencies ready to tackle acid mine drainage at abandoned Pennsylvania Mine

USGS and EPA scientists take earth and water samples below the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine in Summit County, Colorado.

USGS and EPA scientists take earth and water samples below the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine in Summit County, Colorado. Bob Berwyn photo.

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Tainted water at the abandoned Pennsylvania Mine.

By Bob Berwyn

*Extensive Summit Voice coverage of the Pennsylvania Mine is online here.

SUMMIT COUNTY — Nearly a century after miners finished digging millions of dollars worth of silver, lead and zinc out of the Pennsylvania Mine, heavy machinery will once again rumble through the high alpine Peru Creek Valley.

But instead of burrowing deep into the ground to find precious metals, the workers this time will be trying to clean up the big mess left behind when the mine was abandoned. For decades, water coursing through the mine shafts has been dissolving minerals, resulting in acid mine drainage that pollutes Peru Creek and the Snake River. Concentrations of some metals, especially zinc, are high enough to kill trout.

After years of studying the mine, experts with federal and state agencies now say they are ready to try and tackle the pollution. They will provide details on the cleanup plan at the May 29 meeting of the Snake River Watershed Task Force. The public meeting is scheduled from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Keystone Center, 1628 St. John Road, Keystone. Continue reading

Udall visits Summit County to tout new mine cleanup rules

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Pollution from an abandoned mine turned the Blue River bright orange in April 2006. Bob Berwyn photo.

Public event planned Jan. 18 near Breckenridge

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Around the West, there are thousands of abandoned mines polluting streams and killing fish, and many volunteer cleanup efforts have been stymied by strict Clean Water Act liability provisions.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) for years has been working with the EPA to try and make it easier for Good Samaritan groups to tackle remediation projects without taking on responsibility for future pollution. Those efforts showed results in December, when the EPA issued new guidance specifying that Good Samaritans are generally not responsible for obtaining a Clean Water Act permit during or after a successful cleanup conducted according to a Good Samaritan agreement with EPA. Read the memo here.

Udall will be in Summit County Friday (Jan. 18) along with EPA Regional Administrator Jim Martin to discuss the new policy and the public is invited to attend the event, set for 11 a.m. at the Iron Springs Mill off Boreas Pass Road. Continue reading

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