U.S. Water News Online
LA JARA, Colo. -- Officials at the Summitville site, a
former gold mine near the New Mexico line once described as
Colorado's worst environmental disaster, say the state's lingering
drought has helped the cleanup process.
This winter's relatively low snowpack -- about 70 percent of
average -- means that virtually all water runoff from the site can be
treated to remove contaminants, said Austin Buckingham, site manager
for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
It also allowed crews to start this year's treatment efforts
earlier than last year, when some runoff from a snowpack 165 percent
of average couldn't be treated, he said.
It costs about $1.4 million per year to treat the contaminated
water, and about $195 million has been spent so far cleaning up the
The 1,440-acre Summitville site about 25 miles southwest of Del
Norte sits at about 11,500 feet above sea level and had been mined by
various methods since 1870. Most recently, miners heaped crushed ore
into piles that were drenched with a cyanide mixture to leach gold
from the rock.
In 1992, a containment basin failed, sending water contaminated
with heavy metals into nearby creeks that feed the Alamosa River. The
pollution killed all life in 17 miles of the river system.
Summitville Consolidated Mining Co. Inc., a subsidiary of Galactic
Resources Ltd. of Canada, declared bankruptcy that year.
The site's water-treatment plant has received about $400,000 in
upgrades to make it safer and more efficient, but a new plant capable
of handling all the runoff from high-snowpack years probably won't be
possible, said Victor Ketellapper, site manager for the Environmental
"A water-treatment plant ranks very low in the priority of funding
because the area is of ecological risk, not a risk to human health,"
He said annual cleanup costs could be cut by up to 50 percent
under a proposal to use organic compounds including potato waste to
treat soil at the site, but money for the project is not in the
Arcadis G & M Inc., an international company that is working
to prove its patented method, has been using it only for a year at
other sites and more time is needed to determine its effectiveness,
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