DEL NORTE— Rio Grande County Commissioners, representatives with the CDPHE, EPA and Rio Grande Forest Service met with several members of the public on Aug. 23 and 24 for a tour of the Summitville treatment facility and historical township. On both days members of the public were able to tour both the facility and historical sites and hear about future plans for the area.
“We had some wonderful conversations about the possibilities for the Summitville area once negotiations that are still on going for a land exchange are complete. It is a conversation that has been occurring for years, but it’s now to the point where we can actually start to consider uses for the area once the county has reached an agreement with the Forest Service. It was a great opportunity for both county officials and the general public to learn about what we are allowed to do with the site,” said County Commissioner John Noffsker.
This was the second time the county organized a tour of the treatment facility and historical site in the last few years. A group of about 30 people showed up on both days and took advantage of the unique opportunity to see the reclamation, preservation and restoration work being done at the mining site.
“We are beginning to understand what we will be able to do with the area. Archeologists with the Rio Grande National Forest were on hand to answer some questions we had about what we could do to restore and preserve the historical townsites in the area, while allowing the public to enjoy them as well. We came up with some wonderful ideas. We even found some artifacts during the tour that will be taken to the Rio Grande County Museum to be put on display,” continued Noffsker.
The water treatment facility is a fully functioning separation facility that takes dangerous metals out of the water coming mainly from the Reynolds Tunnel and snow melt that carries contaminated water to the sludge pond located just south of the facility. From there, water is transferred to large tanks located inside the building where the process of separation takes place.
Huge machines churn the water and move it from one tank to the next as it goes through the separation process. When the water is first brought in, it is considered highly acidic before undergoing a chemical change when the filtration process begins. Lime is added to the already acidic water to make it alkaline and causes the metals to begin to separate from the clean water. After the lime is added, it is transferred to another tank that stirs the contents until separation occurs before being transferred to a huge tank located outside of the main building.
Once there, the water is slowly stirred by a large device that causes the leftover metals to be pushed to the bottom of the tank, while clean water sloshes over the top of large combs made to catch any floating contaminants. The clean water then goes through a pipe that leads to the main creek.
Contaminating metals that are collected at the bottom of the tank are then transferred to a large accordion-like machine that presses any excess water from the metals and allows the dry material to fall from the bottom of the machine into truck beds, which is then hauled to a material site near the facility. The excess water is then transferred back into the larger tanks to be processed again.
The EPA has entered into a contract with a solar field that was built near Antonito that will help with utility costs from the water treatment plant. The facility is electronically monitored by state of the art equipment and will be operated remotely from Del Norte once the systems are ready for use. Crews currently run the facility from early March until late October in order for the snow runoff to be filtered through the facility before it reaches any main bodies of water.
“We are learning what we will be allowed to do with the site once everything is in order and all paperwork has been signed. Now we just have to consider the best interest of the county and how the site could be beneficial,” finished Noffsker.
Tours for the area will continue next summer with the possibility of a tour bus picking up attendees in South Fork, rather than having them drive up to the site. “We want people to know what is going on up there and we want the public to be involved.”