Friday, April 4, 2008


Gov. Bill Ritter today sent the following letter to the Lake County Commissioners regarding the Leadville Main Drainage Tunnel:
April 4, 2008
Michael J. Hickman, Chair
Lake County Commissioners
505 Harrison Avenue
P.O. Box 964
Leadville, CO 80461
Re:  Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel
Dear Chairman Hickman:
I am writing in response to your letter of April 1, 2008 in which you expressed concern that Colorado is not doing its part to respond to the Lake County Commissioners' Declaration of Emergency regarding the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel (LMDT).  I have also reviewed your letter of April 3, 2008 addressed to Executive Director Jim Martin in which you express similar concerns.
I certainly understand your concerns about preventing a mine blowout that could cause significant damage to the Arkansas River and drinking water systems downstream of Leadville.  I also understand your frustration in the length of time it has taken to get the relevant federal agencies on board with a plan to dewater the LMDT.  However, as this letter outlines below, personnel from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) have been working for years to resolve the disagreement between federal agencies that was impeding action at the LMDT.
Since the collapse within the LMDT, CDPHE personnel have redoubled their efforts to assure that pumping from the LMDT begins as soon as possible to dewater the pool accumulating in the LMDT and to assure that the discharged water is treated to protect environmental quality.  They have also invested a significant amount of time investigating the other options the Lake County Commissioners have identified as potential additional remedial actions.  Finally, the entire department mobilized a few weeks ago to address the drinking water emergency in Alamosa.
Given all that, I was disappointed by some of the assertions made in your letter.  CDPHE and other departments within state government have responded vigorously and effectively to your concerns, and to those of the people of Leadville.
For many years, Colorado has advocated dewatering the LMDT and treating the contaminated mine water at the Bureau of Reclamation water treatment facility, and has actively urged the Environmental Protection Agency and the Bureau to reach an agreement that would move these much-needed actions forward on an accelerated schedule.  In fact, had such an agreement been in place before the collapse of the LMDT we believe the current high mine pool levels and pressure within the LMDT would likely not exist.
Since the collapse of the LMDT and the Commissioners' Declaration of Emergency, Colorado has stepped up its actions to resolve the issue of long-term treatment.  As you know, within hours of receiving the emergency declaration from your office, I personally wrote to President Bush and Secretary Kempthorne urging them to take appropriate actions to ensure that the Bureau would treat the mine discharge water in perpetuity and to provide the necessary funding for this treatment.  I also delivered a follow-up letter in person to Secretary Kempthorne to reiterate the need to ensure long-term treatment of LMDT water at the Bureau facility.
We have worked with Colorado's Congressional delegation to pursue federal legislation to provide for this long-term treatment. 
Although it took far too long to reach this point, I believe it is important to recognize that significant progress has been made.  EPA is already pumping from the Gaw shaft in an effort to relieve the pressure on the LMDT.  EPA is also moving rapidly to drill a larger well into the upper reaches of the LMDT, to install a pump, and to install a pipeline to the Bureau's water treatment plant.  Finally, the Bureau of Reclamation has committed to treat the water pumped from the upper reaches of the LMDT
Executive Director Jim Martin of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and his staff have also actively responded to the Commissioners' Emergency Declaration.  While you expressed some concerns in both your April 1 and April 3 letters on CDPHE's actions, we believe the CDPHE has taken a number of solid steps in the right direction.  CDPHE has participated in numerous meetings and conference calls with the Commissioners and others, and independently of the Commissioners, to coordinate activities and to keep the momentum going to make sure these federal actions are completed. 
At the Commissioners' request, Director Martin agreed to evaluate the recommendation that pumping water from the Canterbury Tunnel through a newly drilled well would divert significant quantities of water from the LMDT, and would protect local public water supplies.  CDPHE has worked to identify legal and technical issues that must be resolved before this recommendation could be pursued, and it has conferred with a number of knowledgeable experts, from the Parkville Water District, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, the US Geological Survey and the EPA, to obtain information to assist in this analysis.   CDPHE began exploring other means for drilling this well, including working with the Colorado Congressional delegation to identify funding sources that might be available to the Parkville Water District to reestablish its water rights in the Canterbury.  Those efforts are ongoing. 
However, as I am sure you know, EPA recently has made clear that it does not believe that either pumping from the Canterbury Tunnel or fluming of Evans Gulch is needed to eliminate the threat of a blowout from LMDT.  Moreover, both the Canterbury Tunnel and the area of Evans Gulch you would like to see flumed are outside the California Gulch Superfund site.  As a result, existing federal funds could not be used at the site and staffs for several members of the congressional delegation have added that it therefore would be difficult to secure federal funds for these measures. 
CDPHE has learned that there is additional conflicting and incomplete information regarding the hydrological connection between the Canterbury Tunnel and the LMDT.  Nevertheless, because of the Commissioners' concerns, CDPHE is working with experts to identify the analysis that would need to be completed to determine whether and to what extent a hydrological connection exists, and perhaps just as important, whether pumping water from the Canterbury Tunnel could result in unintended adverse consequences.  Because of the significant costs associated with drilling, operating and maintaining any well in the Canterbury Tunnel, including reopening the well through horizontal drilling as is now requested by the Commissioners, we believe it prudent to first determine whether pumping water from the Canterbury Tunnel would have the desired effect.  It may be wise to request the General Assembly to authorize and fund such a study, and I understand that CDPHE is working hard to brief the leadership of the General Assembly on that issue.
I am pleased that EPA is pumping water from the Gaw shaft, and that the Bureau and EPA are now working together to complete a well into the LMDT and to pump the mine water to the Bureau facility for treatment.  These actions will provide the most immediate and direct relief for the LMDT.  I am confident that CDPHE will continue to work with the County and others to analyze the feasibility and effectiveness of pumping water from the Canterbury Tunnel, and will assist in identifying the most appropriate course of action, including identifying potential funding sources, should pumping from the Canterbury prove beneficial. 
Finally, I want to reiterate that I take this issue seriously, and have asked Jim Martin to provide regular briefings for my staff on progress by his agency as well as the federal agencies that are involved.  I am confident that by working together, we can find the best course forward for the people of Lake County and the state of Colorado.
Bill Ritter, Jr.