Region 8

Summitville Mine

Summitville Mine site location map Site Type: Final NPL
City: Del Norte
County: Rio Grande
ZIP Code: 81132
EPA ID: COD983778432
SSID: 08Y3
Site Aliases: Summitville Consolidated Mine
Congressional District: 3

What's New?

Updated March 2014

The EPA Emergency Response team conducted an emergency removal action on the Wightman Fork Diversion Rundown Structure at the Summitville Mine Superfund site. This action was necessary after observing erosional damage to the structure after high flood events. The response involved excavating out the existing rundown structure and rebuilding it with a grouted rock structure capable of withstanding spring floods and high precipitation events. Reconstruction of the structure started in September 2012 and it was completed on July 11, 2013.

The Summitville site achieved the site-wide construction completion milestone as documented in the Preliminary Close Out Report signed on September 30, 2013.

In previous decades, the Summitville Mine discharged a large amount of copper and other metals contamination to Wightman Fork and the Alamosa River in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. Now, thanks to the $17 million received from the American Resource and Recovery Act, we built a new water treatment plant to address the discharges. Funds from the act paid for 90 percent of the new water treatment system; the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) provided the remaining 10 percent. A wide range of techniques were used during the site cleanup from the consolidation and capping of mine waste, the containment and treatment of contaminated water, to the innovative use of green technology.

These actions will continue to improve the macro-invertebrate community, the trout population and the water quality in the Alamosa River.

Site Highlights

  • EPA's Green Remediation Strategy seeks to reduce the environmental footprint of Superfund cleanups, and the large-scale treatment system at Summitville represented a great opportunity to offset energy use from the grid with a renewable energy source. EPA and the CDPHE seized this opportunity to supplement power needs by installing a micro-hydroelectric turbine at the site. Read more in the Reuse section below.
  • The construction projects at Summitville provided more than 100 construction jobs in this area, and the cleanup significantly contributed to improving the water quality and restoring fish and aquatic life to the Alamosa River and Terrace Reservoir.

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Site Description

The Summitville Mine site is located 25 miles south of Del Norte, Colorado at an elevation of 11,500 feet above sea level in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. The mine site is situated south of Wightman Fork, a tributary of the Alamosa River, about two miles east of the Continental Divide. Mountain peaks surrounding the mine site range between 12,300 and 12,700 feet elevation. The historic town of Summitville is just to the north of the mine site on the other side of Wightman Fork. The area is traditionally subject to severe winters with heavy snowfall accumulating on steep slopes. Snow may often remain on the ground until late spring or early summer, providing water in quantities sufficient to keep streams, including Wightman Fork, flowing year-round, and acting as a continual source of water entering the soil.

Gold and silver mining began at Summitville around 1870. Large-scale, open-pit mining began at the site in 1984. The mine operator, Summitville Consolidated Mining Corp., Inc. (SCMCI), used cyanide heap leaching to extract precious metals from the ore. In this process, ore excavated from the mountain was crushed and placed onto the clay and synthetic-lined heap leach pad (HLP). A sodium cyanide solution was then applied to leach out gold and silver.

Almost immediately after its construction in 1986, a leak was detected in the HLP. SCMCI abandoned the site and announced it was filing for bankruptcy in December 1992. EPA immediately assumed responsibility of the site as an emergency response. On May 31, 1994 Summitville was placed on the National Priorities List (NPL) of Superfund sites.

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Site Risk

Media Affected Contaminants Source of Contamination
surface water, groundwater, soil copper, cadmium, manganese, zinc, lead, nickel, aluminum, iron mining

The chemicals of concern are heavy metals (copper, cadmium, manganese, zinc, lead, nickel, aluminum, iron) on site and in the acid mine drainage.

Mining operations deforested and greatly disturbed most of the land area at the site. Because of the highly mineralized character of the site, almost all exposed earthen materials are capable of acid generation. This acid mobilizes the variety of metals that are then discharged and contaminate the Alamosa River system below the site. Surface water quality downstream of the mine has been degraded by low pH (acidic) water and by elevated levels of dissolved solids and heavy metals, especially copper.

Human exposure to these contaminants is limited, since no one lives on-site or within two miles, and site groundwater is not used for drinking. Drinking water wells for San Luis Valley residents living downstream of the site have been sampled on numerous occasions and have never shown elevated metals concentrations associated with the site. In 1997, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) released a public health assessment that classified the Summitville site as having no apparent public health hazard. However, ecological impacts from site contaminants have been considerable, as the Alamosa River system below the site cannot currently support aquatic life. Study is on-going regarding potential adverse effects to agriculture and livestock from regular use of Alamosa River water. Preliminary results have indicated some uptake of metals in livestock and some agricultural soil degradation from irrigation; however, in both cases the effects have not been of a level that affects the viability of local farm products or impacts the food chain.

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Cleanup Progress

Since 1992, EPA and CDPHE have initiated several interim projects designed to slow the amount of acid mine drainage coming from the site. These interim projects have included: 1) detoxifying, capping and revegetating the heap leach pad; 2) removing waste rock piles and filling the mine pits; 3) plugging the adits or underground mine entrances; and 4) expanding the water runoff holding ponds and operating a water treatment plant on-site. CDPHE led the largest interim measure to be implemented: site-wide reclamation and revegetation. In addition, CDPHE led the remedial investigation and feasibility study (RI/FS) for the site, beginning in 1998. The RI/FS evaluated the effectiveness of the interim measures that have been completed, or that remain ongoing and determined what final construction projects or long-term measures were necessary for the site. The RI/FS culminated with a site-wide Record of Decision (ROD) issued in the fall of 2001, and ultimately, the construction of a new water treatment system.

Wightman Fork Diversion

Photo of the Wightman Fork Rundown Structure at the Summitville Mine Superfund Site
Wightman Fork Rundown Structure

The Wightman Fork Diversion (WFD) is a vestige of the early days of Summitville mining. Damming the low axis of the valley to store liquid wastes generated by mine operations disrupted the natural flow of the creek. The WFD then diverted Wightman Fork so it could bypass the contaminated water storage area, preventing commingling of clean water with the stored contaminated water. During the hydrologic basin analysis conducted for the Summitville Mine site, the WFD was determined to be of inadequate size to pass the minimum 100-year precipitation event. In 2007, CDPHE hired a consultant to design an upgrade to the WFD so it could safely hold flows from a 100-year precipitation event, and to route a 500-year precipitation event through the Summitville Dam Impoundment (SDI) spillway channel. Because of the diversion's proximity to the SDI, the state engineer's office reviewed and approved prospective designs.

Following the engineer's office review, a contractor, American Civil Constructors, began construction on the approved design. It involves upgrading the deteriorated and undersized culverts and channel with a combination of channel widening, hard-rock erosion control, sheet pile retaining walls, and emergency overflows from the diversion into the SDI. Most noticeably, workers installed two arched culverts around the SDI, each measuring 10 feet tall, 10 feet wide and 275 feet long.

The WFD has long been a bottleneck for water flows during spring runoff and storm events. This work on the WFD improves a major element of site surface water management. After the 2009 to 2012 spring runoff events, EPA and CDPHE noticed significant erosional damage to the Wightman Fork rundown structure and determined that the structure was inadequate to withstand high flood events. EPA’s Emergency Response team mobilized to the site in September 2012 and started to reconstruct a structure designed to convey 100-year rainfall event. Construction was completed in July 2013.

New Aluminum Standards Set for the Alamosa River

CDPHE's Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division proposed changes to the aluminum standards in Alamosa River segments 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D and 8. Because of natural sources, the current acute and chronic numeric standards for aluminum in these segments cannot be met under any circumstance. Natural contributing sources include mineralized terrain in the Stunner, Summitville and Jasper Altered Areas. Human-induced sources include legacy mines in the Stunner, Summitville and Jasper Altered Areas, as well as the Summitville Mine Superfund site.

After accounting for the reversible human-induced sources, CDPHE calculated aluminum values that could be adopted as new, reasonable standards. The Water Quality Control Commission accepted the proposed standards in June 2007. Ambient (or existing conditions) standards apply to Alamosa River segments upstream of Wightman Fork. Technology-based standards—which take into account the achievable aluminum removal using a water treatment plant—apply to Alamosa River segments downstream of Wightman Fork.

History 1992 to Present

1992-1994 EPA and CDPHE emergency response at abandoned Summitville Mine
1994-1995 HLP detoxification
1994 Reynolds adit bulkhead
1996 Cropsy Waste Pile, Beaver Mud Dump, SDI, and mine pit closures
1996-2000 Modification to the existing water treatment plant
1994-1998 Cropsy Valley restoration and revegetation
1998 HLP cap complete
1998 Completion of HLP, North Waste Dump
1998-2001 Site-wide RI/FS
2001 Site-wide ROD
2002 Complete site-wide reclamation
2004 Complete water treatment plant design
2004-2005 Complete contaminant source collection structures
2005 CDPHE assumes lead role for water restoration plan (WRP) and site O&M
2006 Rule change before the Water Quality Control Commission for the Alamosa River
2008-2011 Wightman Fork and SDI improvement, installation of micro-hydro power
2011 Completed construction of new water treatment plant
2013

Completed reconstruction of the Wightman Fork rundown structure; Summitville Mine site achieved the site-wide construction completion milestone

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Community Involvement

Community involvement plays an important role in the Superfund process. EPA uses a number of different tools and resources to promote effective, on-going, meaningful community involvement. The goals of the Superfund community involvement program are to:

  • Keep communities affected by sites informed throughout the cleanup process
  • Provide opportunities for communities to comment and offer their input about site cleanup plans
  • Facilitate the resolution of community issues tied to a site

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Reuse

EPA places a high priority on land reuse as part of its Superfund response program mission. The agency tries to select cleanup options that encourage and support future use of a site. EPA uses two fundamental methods to facilitate reuse of Superfund sites:

  • Exploring future uses before the cleanup remedy is implemented, an approach that gives the Agency the best chance of designing cleanup remedies to support the likely future use of a site.
  • Working with landowners and communities to remove barriers not considered necessary for the protection of human health or the environment at those sites where remedies are already in place.

One option for reuse is the siting of clean and renewable energy projects on contaminated (or formerly contaminated) lands. As part of this effort, EPA is evaluating the potential for energy projects on these properties and working with landowners and communities to identify ways to remove barriers to such projects.

Over the course of the summer field season, the site cleanup requires approximately 2,300 kilowatt hours of electrical power, costing CDPHE and EPA approximately $80,000. Energy costs for site operations likely will increase in the future. To add a measure of self-sufficiency and to support renewable energy, EPA and CDPHE have installed a hydro power plant at the site.

The inlet structure, penstock (a pipe that conveys water to the turbine) and foundation for the powerhouse were constructed in 2008. The powerhouse was built and a 35-kilowatt turbine was installed in the fall of 2010. The plant became operational in 2011 (see brochure below). The water entering the inlet structure flows through the penstock where it powers the turbine before re-entering. The hydro plant will provide 15-20 percent of the site’s energy needs and result in a reduction of approximately 120 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions during the roughly seven months it operates each year. Both EPA and CDPHE have pushed for the micro-hydro power plant installation and are looking for other opportunities to employ energy-efficient processes and operations at the Summitville Mine Superfund Site.

Read more about this energy-saving innovation: Hydroelectric plant powers contaminated water treatment at former gold mine(1 pg, 318 K, About PDF).

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Land Use Controls and Other Institutional Controls

Land use controls are the most common type of institutional control (IC). ICs are administrative or legal controls that help reduce the likelihood for human exposure to contamination. ICs can also help protect the integrity of the remedy. Examples of ICs are:

  • Zoning ordinances
  • Environmental covenants
  • Deed notices
  • Well-drilling restrictions
  • Building permits
  • Informational advisories

Institutional control options are currently being developed for the site in order to provide long-term protectiveness of the remedy. These ICs will be documented in a modification to the record of decision for the site.

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Five-Year Reviews

EPA or the lead agency conducts five-year reviews following the start of a Superfund cleanup when contamination is left on the site. These reviews are repeated every five years. We use these reviews to determine:

  • How the remedy is working
  • If the remedy remains protective of human health and the environment

CDPHE (the lead agency for the cleanup response) with EPA’s oversight conducted the third five-year review in 2010. The report is posted under Site Documents below. The second five-year review for the site will be completed no later than September 2015.

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Site Documents

You will need Adobe Reader to view some of the files on this page. See EPA’s About PDF page to learn more

Preliminary Close Out Report, September 2013

Remedial Action Completion Report (text, tables and figures only), September 28, 2012

Brochure: Micro-hydroelectric Power Generation at Summitville, August 23, 2011

Update to the Five-Year Review, January 2011

Third Five-Year Review Report (PDF), September 2010 (102 pp, 788 K)

Summitville Community Involvement Plan, September 2005

OU5 Record of Decision (PDF), September 28, 2001 (87 pp, 1.4 MB)

OU4 Record of Decision (PDF), December 15, 1994 (87 pp, 194 K)

OU2 Record of Decision (PDF), December 15, 1994 (73 pp, 181 K)

OU1 Record of Decision (PDF), December 15, 1994 (80 pp, 188 K)

OU0 (Site-Wide) Record of Decision (PDF), December 15, 1994 (110 pp, 252 K)

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Contacts

EPA

Fran Costanzi
Remedial Project Manager
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 8
1595 Wynkoop Street (8EPR-SR)
Denver, CO 80202-1129
303-312-6571
800-227-8917 ext. 312-6571 (toll free Region 8 only)
costanzi.frances@epa.gov

Site Document Repositories:

Del Norte Public Library
790 Grand Avenue
Del Norte, CO 81132
719-657-2633

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
HMWMD Records Center
4300 Cherry Creek Drive South
Denver, Colorado 80246-1530
303-692-3331
888-569-1831 ext. 3331 (toll free)
303-759-5355 FAX
comments.hmwmd@state.co.us
By appointment only

EPA Superfund Records Center
1595 Wynkoop Street
Denver, CO 80202-1129
To request copies of administrative record documents call:
303-312-7273
800-227-8917 ext. 312-7273 (toll free Region 8 only)

CDPHE

Mark Rudolph
State Project Manager
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
4300 Cherry Creek Drive South
Denver, CO 80246-1530
303-692-3311
888-569-1831 ext. 3311 (toll-free)
mark.rudolph@state.co.us

Warren Smith
Community Relations Manager
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
4300 Cherry Creek Drive South
303-692-3373
888-569-1831 ext. 3373 (toll free)
warren.smith@state.co.us

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Photo/Video Gallery

Click on a thumbnail below to view the full size image.

Remedial action work begins
Sept. 13, 2009
Drilling caissons, preparing the surface
Sept. 30, 2009
Drilling caissons, preparing surface for WTP foundation
Sept. 30, 2009
Protecting the WTP foundation
Nov. 3, 2009
Conceptual model of completed WTP

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Links

Summitville Mine site at CDPHE's Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division Exit

ATSDR Public Health Assessment, August 5, 1997

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Alamosa River Watershed – Summitville

USGS: The Summitville Mine and its Downstream Effects

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