Ritter responds to Leadville worries | AspenTimes.com

Ritter responds to Leadville worries

The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter said state officials are taking seriously Lake County’s concerns about another partial tunnel collapse that is complicating efforts to remove the threat of flooding in the hills above Leadville.

County commissioners have been worried about the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel (LMDT), which drains water from hundreds of abandoned mine shafts. A collapse in the tunnel, detected in 1995, caused water to back up inside the shafts. More than a billion gallons of water has collected.

Commissioners fear the building pressure behind the tunnel could blow with devastating effect, sweeping away mobile homes in Leadville, a town of 2,600. Such a blowout would also send contaminated water into the Arkansas River.

In a letter Friday sent to Commissioner Mike Hickman, Ritter said the state has responded “vigorously and effectively” to the county’s emergency declaration in February over water from the LMDT.

In his own letter earlier this week, Hickman had urged the state to spend $3.5 million to drill a well and pump water out of the Canterbury Tunnel, which once provided drinking water to Leadville. Hickman said a partial collapse in the Canterbury Tunnel is sending clean water into the mine pool behind the LMDT that’s contaminated with cadmium, lead and mercury.

He said pumping water out of the Canterbury Tunnel could lessen the amount of water that would need to be pumped out of the LMDT and treated by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Bureau of Reclamation.

Ritter said the state has been pressuring federal officials to help resolve the problems in the LMDT but noted that state health department staff also had to respond to a drinking water emergency in Alamosa, the center of a salmonella outbreak.

In his letter, Ritter said several questions remain, including whether water from the Canterbury Tunnel flows into the LMDT and the unintended consequences of drilling into the Canterbury Tunnel.

Ritter said the state would assist the county and local water district in studying the problem and finding possible funding sources

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