There would be 3,600 pounds of potentially toxic chemicals per week mixed with 65,000,000 gallons of water per year 1,000 feet above Grape Creek and the Arkansas River.
Canon City water intake and storage facilities on the Arkansas River
Zephyr plans that all processing water and stormwater will be contained. But they will be drilling through and using underground water from the aquifers. They have stated that the impact on water levels and quality will be "insignificant." However, this claim has no assurances. There would be some monitoring of water quality and water levels. Again, there are no assurances that mine operations will curtail if depletion or contamination occurs. There are no water quality standards specified in the permit and no specified actions of what will happen if those standards are not met.
Changes made by the mining operation could continue to impact the area long after the mine is closed. In our BROCHURE, we use the example of the Gold King Mine underground mine spill that occurred 92 years after the Gold King Mine was closed.
One of the major challenges confronting the mining and minerals processing industry in the 21st century will be managing in an environment of ever-decreasing water resources. Because most mineral processing requires high water use, there will be even more urgency to develop and employ sustainable technologies that will reduce consumption and the discharge of process-affected water. Source: app.knovel.com/web/toc.v/cid:kpWMP00006/viewerType:toc/
RISK OF SURFACE WATER CONTAMINATION
The proposed mine lies within the watershed of Grape Creek. Drainage from Dawson Mountain runs through the middle of the proposed mining facility and into an existing wash that empties into Grape Creek, 2.5 miles away. A heavy rain event could wash contaminants from the mining site into Grape Creek. Roughly one mile downstream from this point, Grape Creek enters the Arkansas River. One-half a mile further downstream is the City of Cañon City Water Department (CCWD) water intake.
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TYPES OF WATER POLLUTION FROM MINING
There are four main types of mining impacts on water quality.
Acid Mine Drainage: Acid Rock Drainage (ARD) is a natural process whereby sulphuric acid is produced when sulphides in rocks are exposed to air and water. Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) is essentially the same process, greatly magnified. When large quantities of rock containing sulphide minerals are excavated from an open pit or opened up in an underground mine, it reacts with water and oxygen to create sulphuric acid. When the water reaches a certain level of acidity, a naturally occurring type of bacteria called Thiobacillus ferroxidans may kick in, accelerating the oxidation and acidification processes, leaching even more trace metals from the wastes. The acid will leach from the rock as long as its source rock is exposed to air and water and until the sulphides are leached out – a process that can last hundreds, even thousands of years. Acid is carried off the minesite by rainwater or surface drainage and deposited into nearby streams, rivers, lakes and groundwater. AMD severely degrades water quality, and can kill aquatic life and make water virtually unusable.
Heavy Metal Contamination & Leaching: Heavy metal pollution is caused when such metals as arsenic, cobalt, copper, cadmium, lead, silver and zinc contained in excavated rock or exposed in an underground mine come in contact with water. Metals are leached out and carried downstream as water washes over the rock surface. Although metals can become mobile in neutral pH conditions, leaching is particularly accelerated in the low pH conditions such as are created by Acid Mine Drainage.
Processing Chemicals Pollution: This kind of pollution occurs when chemical agents (used by mining companies to separate the target mineral from the ore) spill, leak, or leach from the mine site into nearby water bodies. These chemicals can be highly toxic to humans and wildlife.
Erosion and Sedimentation: Mineral development disturbs soil and rock in the course of constructing and maintaining roads, open pits, and waste impoundments. In the absence of adequate prevention and control strategies, erosion of the exposed earth may carry substantial amounts of sediment into streams, rivers and lakes. Excessive sediment can clog riverbeds and smother watershed vegetation, wildlife habitat and aquatic organisms.
ACID MINE DRAINAGE: PREVENTION IS THE KEY
Acid Mine Drainage is a watershed issue of importance to the full range of public stakeholders. To begin to address the very real problems posed by AMD, the government must:
prevent future loss of aquatic habitat to Acid Mine Drainage,
inventory and cleanup existing acid-generating mine sites
improve public access to information on monitoring and enforcement of AMD treatment and reclamation, and
prevent future AMD by improving environmental risk assessment and adopting a liability prevention approach to future AMD mine assessments.
Mining can deplete surface and groundwater supplies. Groundwater withdrawals may damage or destroy streamside habitat many miles from the actual mine site. In Nevada, the driest state in the United States of America, the Humboldt River is being drained to benefit gold mining operations along the Carlin Trend. Mines in the northeastern Nevada desert pumped out more than 580 billion gallons of water between 1986 and 2001 – enough to feed New York City’s taps for more than a year. Groundwater withdrawn from the Santa Cruz River Basin in Southern Arizona for use at a nearby copper mine is lowering the water table and drying up the river.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
For the sake of current and future generations we need to safeguard the purity and quantity of our water against irresponsible mineral development. We need to ensure the best pollution prevention strategies are employed in cases where the risks can be managed. We also need to recognize that in some places mining should not be allowed to proceed because the identified risks to other resources, such as water, are too great.