Rio Grande County dedicates signs at Summitville

SUMMITVILLE— As part of a heritage tourism project, Rio Grande County in partnership with representatives of the EPA and the Rio Grande Emergency Water Conservation Action Team held a dedication ceremony at the Summitville mining site over the weekend to celebrate the placement of new interpretive signs for the site.

During the ceremony, Rio Grande County Commissioner Karla Shriver spoke about the work that went into getting the signs made and placed at the location and the future of what could be an annual event for the Del Norte area.

Shriver with RWEACT (Rio Grande Watershed Emergency Action Coordination Team) representative Kristy Borchers and three EPA specialists cut a ribbon and dedicated the new interpretive signs to the Summitville site.

After the brief ceremony, vans provided by the county took visitors on a drive tour of the mining claim and a walk through of the relatively new water treatment plant that was finished in 2011. The building has made an enormous difference in keeping contaminated water from reaching the tributaries that run into the main river near the mining site.

The water treatment facility is a fully functioning separation facility that takes dangerous metals out of the water coming mainly from the Reynolds Tunnel and snow melt that carries contaminated water to the sludge pond located just south of the facility. From there, water is transferred to large tanks located inside the building where the process of separation takes place.

Huge machines churn the water and move it from one tank to the next as it goes through the separation process. When the water is first brought in, it is considered highly acidic before undergoing a chemical change when the filtration process begins. Lime is added to the already acidic water to make it alkaline and causes the metals to begin to separate from the clean water. After the lime is added, it is transferred to another tank that stirs the contents until separation occurs before being transferred to a huge tank located outside of the main building.

Once there, the water is slowly stirred by a large device that causes the leftover metals to be pushed to the bottom of the tank, while clean water sloshes over the top of large combs made to catch any floating contaminants. The clean water then goes through a pipe that leads to the main creek.

Contaminating metals that are collected at the bottom of the tank are then transferred to a large accordion like machine that presses any excess water from the metals and allows the dry material to fall from the bottom of the machine into truck beds, which is then hauled to a material site near the facility. The excess water is then transferred back into the larger tanks to be processed again.

The EPA has entered into a contract with a solar field that has been built near Antonito that will help with utility costs from the water treatment plant. The facility is electronically monitored by state of the art equipment and will be operated remotely from Del Norte once the systems are ready for use. Crews currently run the facility from early March until late October in order for the snow runoff to be filtered through the facility before it reaches any main bodies of water.

The signs are placed near a large, heavily made metal picnic structure and include a brief history of the mine as well as pictures of the site from its early days until present. Due to a bankruptcy that occurred in the early 90s, most of the land around the mining site is now owned by the county and officials hope to host annual tours of the site throughout the summer months. Future projects for the site are underway and more information of a land transfer between the county, EPA and the forest service is in the works.

Guests are encouraged to travel to Summitville to see the interpretive signs and mining site, but are cautioned to be careful while exploring the area.

Caption: Commissioner Karla Shriver, RWEACT representative Kristine Borchers and representatives from the EPA take part in a ribbon cutting ceremony to dedicate new interpretive signs for the Summitville Mining Site. Photo by Lyndsie Ferrell