SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4)- There is no dispute that the Pennsylvania Mine in Summit County is a source of pollution. What isn’t known is how the contamination from inside the mine is finding its way to the Snake River.
Crews are working to locate the source of the contamination from the mine that is carrying metals to nearby waterways and impacting wildlife.
Pennsylvania Mine located south of Keystone, closed sometime around World War II. So far more than $300,000 has been spent get gain access into the mine.
The mine is located deep into the White River National Forest. That’s where some large and heavy construction equipment has been placed for the project to find the source of contamination.
“To conduct an underground investigation to give us a feel for what type of remedies we might be able to implement on sight to reduce the amount of discharge,” said Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety spokesman Jeff Graves.
The major problem is that water has poured out of the mine since it was built in the 19th Century. Pennsylvania Mine opened in 1879 and closed in the 1940s leaving behind a mess.
That water contains high levels of zinc, aluminum and other metals. The metal contamination has been blamed on eliminating the fish habitat down stream in Peru Gulch. That creek flows into Snake River.
“We don’t know the exact pathways it uses to get out of the mine,” said Graves.
Before winter arrives, contractors are securing the mine portals.
“It will also be an ongoing thing over the next year. The type of technology employed, it’s going to be man power, we’re going to have men underground doing mapping,” said Graves.
They hope to avoid building a multi-million dollar water treatment facility in the remote backcountry.
“A year from now be able to put on the table a number of remedies that we can move forward with,” said Graves.
The most likely short term solution will be plugging the hole once the source of the water is located. Once that is complete crews will begin restoring the environment around the mine which was damaged from the contamination.
“We may be able to reduce the mining impacts to the creek but the natural contamination that was here prior to mining will be something we can’t really address,” said Graves.
By the time the water flows to Lake Dillon where it is used as the water supply to Denver and other municipalities, it is diluted enough so that the metals aren’t at harmful levels.
But the same cannot be said for animals. The contamination has destroyed Peru Gulch as a fishery. That’s just one of the reasons the studies and attempts at cleanup have been under way for so long.
Remediation work has been under way since the late 80s and many of those involved feel as though they are finally getting close to fixing the pollution problem.