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Removal of water from Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel underway


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has begun pumping and transporting water from the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel in Lake County, Colo. Water is currently being pumped at a rate of approximately 1,000 gallons per minute and is being sent via a 4,700-foot long pipeline to a water treatment plant operated by the Bureau of Reclamation. The water, which contains elevated concentrations of dissolved metals, is being safely treated before being sent to the Arkansas River.

“EPA has been working diligently towards this day since February, and we are pleased to announce that the removal, transport and treatment of water from the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel is now underway,” said EPA Assistant Regional Administrator, Carol Campbell. “While this is a significant milestone in reducing any potential risks to Leadville residents and the Arkansas River, our long-term goal is to address those risks permanently.”

Over the next several months, EPA will coordinate with the Bureau of Reclamation to monitor water volumes, water quality and treatment requirements to ensure that water is removed from the drainage tunnel safely and as quickly as possible.

EPA has been taking action to relieve the pressure associated with water trapped in the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel since February. The 70-year old tunnel lies approximately 350-feet below the surface and contains an estimated 500 million to one billion gallons of water that has become trapped behind various blockages. Efforts to remove this water have included securing access from property owners, constructing a drill pad, drilling the relief well, and clearing, trenching and installing nearly one mile of pipeline from the well site to the water treatment plant.

The Bureau of Reclamation is currently testing various pumping regimes to balance the water received from the new well and the water it has been treating since 1992 when the water treatment plant opened. This testing will allow Reclamation to continue to treat water from the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel in an efficient and effective manner.

EPA and the Bureau of Reclamation continue to meet with representatives from U.S. Congressional Offices, State Legislators’ Offices, the State of Colorado, Lake County, and other agencies to discuss short- and long- term mitigation efforts.


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