Sen. Salazar's Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel Bill Receives Senate Hearing
Today, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Sub-committee on Water and Power held a hearing and received testimony on United States Senator Ken Salazar's Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel Environmental Improvement Act of 2008 (S. 2680). Senator Salazar introduced the bill in late February to address the blockage in the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel (LMDT) and to avoid a potentially catastrophic release that would impact thousands of citizens in Lake County, Colorado.
Senator Salazar and the Committee heard testimony from the Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation Robert Johnson and Susan Parker Bodine, a representative from the Environmental Protection Agency. Martha Rudolph, Director of Environmental Programs for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, was also a witness and testified in support of the bill.
"The people of Leadville and Lake County and everyone who relies and cares about the health of the Arkansas River deserve our best efforts to solve this long-standing problem," said Senator Salazar. "Fortunately, we have already begun the pumping and treating of the backed up water, but we cannot lose sight of the need for a longer-term solution. My bill focuses on that long-term solution and ensures that it can be implemented as expeditiously as possible. I will continue to press the Bureau of Reclamation and the EPA to work together to avoid a further environmental and public health disaster."
Senator Salazar's bill will ensure that the Bureau of Reclamation has the necessary authority and funding to repair and maintain the LMDT and for the long-term treatment of the mine drainage water at the Bureau's water treatment plant. Senator Salazar's bill specifically will:
* Gives the Secretary of the Interior and the Bureau of Reclamation clear authority and responsibility to maintain the LMDT in a manner that protects human health and the environment. For many years the Bureau of Reclamation has stated that it needs specific statutory authority to treat water that did not historically discharge from the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel. Senator Salazar's bill eliminates any ambiguity on this point by deleting the statutory language ("historical discharge") that the Bureau claims exempts it from responsibility.
* Directs the Bureau to participate in the long-term remedy for the LMDT that has been approved by the EPA and the CDPHE, and vetted through public meetings.
* Specifically, the bill requires the Bureau to construct a bulkhead in the tunnel to isolate the contaminated pool, backfill a portion of the tunnel to segregate the mine pool from clean water entering the lower portions of the tunnel, install wells, pumps and a gravity pipeline to transport contaminated mine pool water to the BOR plant for treatment, and to provide protection against a catastrophic failure of the tunnel.
* Authorizes $40 million in funds for implementation of the long-term remedy.
* Directs the Secretary of the Interior, in cooperation with the State and the EPA, to conduct a study to determine whether any blockages in the LMDT have affected, or are affecting, water quality and aquatic life in the Arkansas River in the vicinity downstream of the LMDT.
Background: The LMDT is 2.1 miles in length, is located near the headwaters of the Arkansas River, and dates from the WWII and Korean War era. The Bureau of Reclamation acquired ownership and took possession of the LMDT in 1959. In 1995 a collapse of a portion of the tunnel was first detected. Since then, water has collected behind the debris. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that close to one billion gallons of water, much of it contaminated with toxic levels of cadmium, zinc, and manganese, has collected behind the collapsed portion of the tunnel.
Below is Senator Salazar's testimony as prepared for the committee:
"Thank you Chairman Johnson and Ranking Member Corker for holding today's hearing on a variety of important water-related legislation, including my bill S. 2680, the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel Environmental Improvement Act of 2008.
"Today a collapsed part of the Leadville Mine Drainage Tunnel, or LMDT, poses a grave environmental threat to many citizens of Colorado. Leadville sits at the headwaters of the Arkansas River, and thus the effluent into the river there is of paramount importance to millions of people.
"The deterioration of the LMDT has received enormous attention in central Colorado recently. Just over 2 miles long, this tunnel was constructed during the 1940s and 1950s by the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Mines to drain flooded mines in the Leadville mining district of Lake County in central Colorado. In 1959, the Bureau of Reclamation took full custody of and responsibility for the LMDT in order to obtain additional water rights for the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project under the condition that the Bureau would not spend its own funds to maintain or repair the Tunnel. In the early 1990s, however, litigation compelled the Bureau to take responsibility for the quality of the water discharged by the Tunnel.
"In 1995, a major collapse of a segment of the tunnel was detected, and since then, mine water has pooled behind the blockage. Today the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that close to one billion gallons of water contaminated with toxic levels of cadmium, zinc, and manganese, has collected. The citizens of Leadville, Lake County, and the area downstream of the LMDT are deeply worried that the building pressure from this voluminous quantity of water will cause the blockage to burst and flood the town, resulting in a public health and environmental disaster. This winter's heavy snowfall has some concerned that spring snowmelt will further balloon the quantity of toxic water and exacerbate the risk.
"I want to thank Commissioner Johnson, EPA Regional Administrator Robert Roberts, and their staffs, for their swift and decisive action to begin pumping and treating water behind the LMDT blockage. These operations have provided some measure of relief and peace of mind to the citizens of Leadville and the communities downstream of the LMDT. We must not, however, lose sight of the need for a long-term solution to the problem.
"My bill focuses on making sure the long term solution for the LMDT moves forward as expeditiously as possible. My bill gives the Secretary of the Interior and the Bureau of Reclamation clear authority and responsibility to maintain the LMDT in a manner that protects human health and the environment. For many years the Bureau has maintained that it is not responsible for changed conditions within the LMDT. Specifically, the legislation directs the Bureau to participate in the long-term remedy for the LMDT that has already been approved by the EPA, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and has been vetted through public meetings. The bill also authorizes the necessary funds for implementation of the long-term remedy. The long-term solution for the LMDT, specified under the fully approved and vetted EPA superfund Record of Decision, is much more extensive than the pumping and water treatment activity now underway. It will involve construction of a bulkhead in the tunnel to isolate the contaminated pool, backfilling the tunnel, as well as several other actions.
"My bill also directs the Secretary of the Interior, in cooperation with the State and the EPA, to conduct a study to determine whether any blockages in the LMDT have affected, or are affecting, water quality and aquatic life in the Arkansas River in the vicinity downstream of the LMDT. We must ensure that the problems with the LMDT blockage do not impact the water quality of the Arkansas River, which is the lifeblood of so many communities. This study will help improve our understanding of the conditions of the headwaters near the LMDT.
"Above all, my bill directs the Bureau and EPA to come to a consensus on implementing the long-term remedy that I believe we all agree is necessary to safeguard the LMDT from becoming an environmental and public health disaster. A permanent solution to the problems with the LMDT has long been stymied by jurisdictional and liability questions related to EPA's remedy selected in the California Gulch Superfund Site Record of Decision for the area that includes the LMDT, Operational Unit (OU) 6. Specifically, Reclamation's legal liability under CERCLA (as the owner of the LMDT) and EPA's ability to spend Superfund remedial action funds on the OU 6 remedy appear to be in dispute.
"Since I introduced my legislation, I have met with Commissioner Johnson and my staff has met with staff of both agencies and the Solicitor's Office to facilitate a dialogue and long-term solution for the LMDT. I expect to learn today what progress has been made in reaching a joint agency position on this matter.
"The people of Leadville and Lake County, and frankly everyone who relies on and cares about the Arkansas River deserve our best efforts to solve the LMDT. I look forward to advancing a resolution to this problem today."