EPA to Drill and Pump Contaminated Water from Leadville Mine

Responding to reports that water inside the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel could affect local residents in Colorado, the Lake County Commission declared a state of emergency and got the attention of state and federal officials.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have bickered over what to do about the aging tunnel, which stretches 2.1 miles and has become dammed by debris, according to an article in The New York Times. The debris is holding back more than a billion gallons of water, much of it tainted with toxic levels of cadmium, zinc, and manganese, the article said.

In 1983, EPA listed the area as a Superfund site because of mine tailings and runoff.  According to the article, the agency offered in 2005 to start pumping the clogged water toward a Bureau of Reclamation plant, which treats the water flowing through the tunnel; but the bureau contended that the additional water was part of the EPA's Superfund cleanup responsibility.

Now, EPA has agreed to spend $1.5 million to drill into the tunnel and begin pumping the water into the Bureau of Reclamation's treatment facility, the article said.

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