Colorado city buys cleaned water from a former gold mine
London Mine near Fairplay, CO was shuttered in the 1980s after a century of producing gold. Since then, the nearly 130 miles of tunnels and 4,000 vertical feet of mine workings has filled with water making it the largest permitted source of pollution in all of Colorado.
But now, the water from that mine is being turned into potable water and sold to the city of Aurora, CO. KDVR reported that Aurora has spent $34 million to purchase water rights to about 1,400 acre-feet of water a year from the London Mine.
The reclamation of the water and the mine itself is being done by MineWater LLC.
“There was more than 40 pounds a day of zinc leaving the site. There were multi-million dollar fines levied against the site when we bought it,” said Joe Harrington, president of MineWater.
“It’s totally thinking outside the box. This is really a diverse piece of our portfolio. It's a really different piece,” said Alexandra Davis, deputy director of Aurora Water.
Currently, the water from the mine is a small part of the city's water portfolio, accounting for about two percent of the city's water supply.
“Aurora, by acquiring the water rights, did not acquire any of the liability associated with the water,” said Davis.
Harrington and his investors assume the liability for the mine, and it's that component that has other cities taking note.
“As the water shortages intensify, you have to look at everything," said Harrington.
Since August 2016, MineWater has drilled 2,700 feet of PQ size bore holes using diamond drilling, with excellent core recovery, and some interesting geology encountered that is conducive to both mine development and water production.
Most of the water no longer flows through its contaminated tunnels. Instead, it's diverted under and around the mine, and the water that does flow through the mine is now manageable and much cheaper to treat.
“You don't solve pollution by diluting it. You solve pollution by going to the source and fixing it,” said Harrington.
Most of the tunnels are also now dry, unlocking new potential for mining.
Not only is Harrington creating new potentials for water and mining, he's also making the mine safer by relieving the water pressure, hopefully preventing a blowout like the one at the Gold King Mine in 2015.
Photo: Mountains near Fairplay, CO. Shutterstock