EPA wants to keep treatment plant running

Dan Elliott
The Associated Press
An employee with Environmental Restoration LLC tends to a temporary water treatment holding facility on Aug. 10, 2015, at the Gold King Mine north of Silverton, Colo.

DENVER - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants to keep operating a temporary wastewater treatment plant near the Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado while it looks for longer-term solutions after a massive spill at the mine last year.

A final decision will be made next month, the EPA said. The agency announced its intentions last week.

The plant began operating in October 2015, and the agency said at the time it would run at least through the end of this month and possibly longer.

The plant was installed about 10 weeks after an EPA-led crew inadvertently triggered a 3-million-gallon spill of wastewater from the mine on Aug. 5, 2015, while doing preliminary cleanup work. The spill tainted rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah with about 880,000 pounds of toxic heavy metals including arsenic, mercury and lead, the EPA said. The treatment plant cleans up the wastewater that continues to drain from the mine.

The EPA is looking at long-term solutions for the Gold King and 47 other nearby mining sites, which send millions of gallons of acidic wastewater to creeks and rivers every year. The area was designated a Superfund site in September, clearing the way for a multimillion-dollar federal cleanup expected to take years.

The temporary treatment plant cost $2.9 million. The original plant cost $1.8 million, and the EPA later expanded it for $1.1 million more.

It is being run for slightly less than expected. The EPA initially said it would cost $20,000 a week to run, but the agency said Tuesday the cost is about $16,000 a week.

Cleanup so far has cost about $29 million, the EPA said. That money has gone toward work and reimbursements and aid to state and local governments affected by the Gold King spill.

The temporary treatment plant could be in operation for at least two years while the EPA investigates the area and evaluates long-term options, the agency said.