Former cesspool provides precious water |

Former cesspool provides precious water

J.K. Perry

CLIMAX – The little known Eagle Park Reservoir, a major source of water downvalley, once looked like the many mine waste ponds around the Climax Mine at the headwaters of the Eagle River.The reservoir – the valley’s largest water storage facility – is tucked along Highway 91 between Leadville and Copper Mountain. No public access means many Eagle County residents never have seen the reservoir, but it provides them water during dry months.”It’s the mother lode – I can’t stress the importance enough,” said Glenn Porzak, a water attorney who represents the reservoir. “The water supply is secure during drought years.”Before Porzak and other groups secured the supply, the reservoir was a cesspool of mine waste. The Climax Mine experimented in the 1960s with extracting the steel-strengthening element molybdenum from oxidized ore and the leftover waste found a home in the reservoir, said Allen Sorenson, reclamation specialist for the Colorado Division of Minerals and Geology.The experiment proved ineffective, and it stopped. The mine contained the pond to prevent contamination of surrounding waters, but the potential for contamination loomed, Sorenson said.”In the 1990s they started looking at what to do with that pond because it had been an environmental liability for 30 years,” he said.The mine excavated – in some cases down to bed rock – approximately 3.4 million tons of contaminated soil and transported the soil to a waste pile in Summit County, Sorenson said. The resulting hole was filled with water and monitored for contamination.”It resulted in very clean water and continues to be extremely good water to this day,” Sorenson said.Four groups collectively purchased the Eagle Park Reservoir in 1998 for nearly $12 million. Vail Resorts owns a slight majority of the water, which is used for snowmaking at Vail and Beaver Creek mountains and other operations. Three other groups – Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority and Colorado River Water Conservation District – own the remainder and use the water to augment water supplies mostly for valley towns.Water from the peaks surrounding the Climax Mine is captured and routed around mine waste into the reservoir. The reservoir yields enough water to cover 2,000 acres of land a foot deep during three consecutive drought years. Water is released through an underground damn in the reservoir into the east fork of the Eagle River during the dry late summer and winter months.In winter, from a third to a half of the water running through Minturn comes from the reservoir and to a lesser degree Homestake, another major reservoir along Eagle County’s southeast border, Porzak said.Staff Writer J.K. Perry can be reached at 748-2928 or, Colorado

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