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Summitville Mine Hydro-Power Project to Help Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Summitville Mine Hydro-Power Project to Help Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

2008 Wightman Fork diversion construction; (lower-right) stilling basin and gated-penstock inlet for 16-inch pipe-run laid alongside arch-pipe culverts through dam.

Reducing the demands placed on the environment during cleanup of contaminated sites while continuing to protect human health and the environment is a high priority for the Superfund program.  Ongoing activities at the Summitville Mine National Priorities List (NPL) site demonstrate how EPA and its partners are making this priority a reality through the completion of a hydroelectric power system. When finished, the system will reduce the site’s dependence on line power.

The result of abandoned cyanide heap leach gold-mining operations, the Summitville Mine site covers approximately 1,200 acres in the San Juan Mountains, in an area about 25 miles south of Del Norte, CO.  At an elevation of 11,500 feet above sea level, the site is situated south of Wightman Fork, a tributary of the Alamosa River, about two miles east of the Continental divide. 

The site generates approximately 400 million gallons per year of metal-contaminated acid rock drainage (ARD), which is collected and stored in a large impoundment for treatment during the spring-fall treatment campaign.  Heavy winter snows and 40-inch average annual precipitation results in the year-round flow of clean water from the headwater Wightman Fork drainage.  This flow is diverted and conveyed around an ARD storage reservoir.

In 2008, EPA Region 8 and the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE) made substantial progress towards completion of the hydroelectric system with implementation of Phase1 of the project.  Funded by CDPHE, Phase1 entailed installation of a gate-controlled diversion-structure (within the Wightman Fork channel) upstream of the dam and placement of critical piping.    

With the arrival of the 2009 construction season, EPA plans to begin Phase2 work.  This phase is expected to see completion of the power house and installation of the turbine generator and related control systems, which will link back into the site power grid.  EPA estimates that the system will generate approximately 250,000 kilowatt hours of electricity while eliminating approximately 250 tons of carbon dioxide greenhouse gases per year.

Summitville Site Profile

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