Leadville wants more action on mine water | VailDaily.com
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Leadville wants more action on mine water

P. Solomon Banda
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado

DENVER, Colorado ” Another partial tunnel collapse is complicating efforts to remove the threat of flooding in the hills above Leadville, where more than 1 billion gallons of toxic water has pooled, a local official says.

Lake County Commissioner Mike Hickman wants the state to drain the Canterbury Tunnel, which is believed to be emptying into a second tunnel where the water has collected.

Hickman sent a letter to Gov. Bill Ritter Tuesday asking that the state spend $3.5 million to drill a well and pump water out of the Canterbury Tunnel, which once provided drinking water to Leadville.

A partial collapse in that tunnel has sent its clean water into the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel, Hickman said. In February, commissioners declared an emergency over fears that toxic water buildup from the LMDT in the hills overlooking Leadville could blow with devastating effect, sweeping away mobile homes in the town of 2,600.

Officials say a blowout also would release water laden with cadmium, lead and mercury into the Arkansas River.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Bureau of Reclamation are working on a plan to drill a well and pump water out of the 2-mile-long LMDT, which drains water from hundreds of abandoned mine shafts. A collapse inside that tunnel, detected in 1995, caused the water to back up inside the shafts.

Martha Rudolph, director of environmental programs for the state health department, said Wednesday the state plans to examine the Canterbury Tunnel, which sits above the LMDT, but it’s not clear yet if its water is contributing to the problem.

“We don’t see there’s an emergency for us to take immediate action to drill into the Canterbury,” Rudolph said. “We don’t want to study this thing to death, but given the geology of this thing, it’s very complicated.”

Other issues, including ownership of the tunnel and of the land above, further complicate the matter, Rudolph said.

Hickman said Lake County turned to the state because neither the county nor the local water district have the money to drain the Canterbury Tunnel.

Sen. Tom Wiens, R-Castle Rock, whose district includes Leadville, planned to add the project this week to the state’s $17.6 billion budget.

Evan Dreyer, a spokesman for Ritter, said the governor had not seen the letter.


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