Lake County asks for more study of leaking tunnel |

Lake County asks for more study of leaking tunnel

Katie Redding
Lake County correspondent

LEADVILLE, Colorado ” Lake County Commissioners this week suggested the Environmental Protection Agency slow down and study the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel before it drills into the leaking, toxic tunnel.

The commissioners have been holding weekly conference calls since they declared a state of emergency on Feb. 13. Officials later said that while the tunnel does need repair, Leadville’s water supply was not in danger, and the emergency threat might have been overplayed.

Now, commissioners are slowing down. Commissioner Ken Olsen suggested the EPA was missing an opportunity to perform tests using dye to color the water ” which tells them where the water travels ” that might confirm how much water is migrating to California Gulch.

But EPA remedial project manager Stan Christensen said that they had been performing dye tests since 2000 ” all the way up to 2004 or 2005 ” and they hadn’t seen dye migrating in that direction.

Generally speaking, EPA officials said they think they’re on track to begin drilling within the three-month time frame they have set for themselves. Access issues do not appear to be a problem, they said, and they appear to have enough money. Asked what they will do if the project goes over budget, officials explained that they would try to pull money from other projects.

Later, Olsen asked the agencies how much groundwater they intend to pump.

Christensen explained that the EPA’s remedy includes plugs for the tunnel; with those plugs in place, he said, it isn’t necessary to pump the water in the portal all the way down.

But Olsen continued to worry about the possibility that water in the tunnel could migrate to California Gulch. Lake County attorney Ann Umphries suggested that the parties needed to come to an agreement about a “safe level” of groundwater in Lake County.

Katie Redding is the reporter for The Leadville Chronicle. She can be reached at

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