Water treatment plant near Gold King mine filters out sludge

Meg Hilling
September 21, 2017 07:32 PM

SILVERTON, Colo. -- If you have wandered up in the mountains near Silverton, you may have seen a facility tucked away in the hills close to the site of the Gold King Mine spill. That facility would be a water treatment plant.


Put in place two months after the spill, the plant filters out minerals like copper and zinc that come with water running down from the mine.

"It's a very simple standard lime treatment process," EPA Superfund Site Project Manager Rebecca Thomas said. "We add lime to the water. Raise the PH. All the metal contaminations drop out. We are left with this byproduct of sludge."

Millions of pounds of sludge each year are filtered out at the plant. Taking the water from the mine via these pipes, the water is mixed with lime and polymers in order to clump them up as the water is filtered out.

The filtered water is then released into creeks, while the sludge is sent to these massive retaining bags. Once the sludge bags are full outside, any remaining water in those bags is brought back into the treatment facility and cycled through once more before being released out into the creeks. The full bags of sludge are then opened up, dug out, and stored at the facility.

No long-term site for the sludge has been determined, marking yet another mine pollution task the Environmental Protection Agency is pursuing. 

"There absolutely is a lot more work that needs to be done," said Albert Kelly, a senior advisor to the EPA administrator. "I think we are positioned well to do it, keeping in mind that for every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction. We have to be sure that those actions we take are going to be solid solutions." 

The EPA says the site is currently considered temporary.


Meg Hilling

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