At last! My High Country News cover story on the story behind the Gold King Mine blowout is about to be published. No link yet, but I do have this photograph. I'll be putting some of the outtakes -- the more wonky stuff that got cut from the story -- up on this blog in upcoming days. For now, a photo of the Gold King #7 Level, in the early 1900s, which is the portal that blew out on August 5, 2015. Construction on this level of the mine (originally called the American Tunnel, just to confuse everyone), was completed in 1900 or so.
I find the photo remarkable for a couple of reasons. There's the big boarding house, perched precariously on the slope (and yes, it was hit by an avalanche on more than one occasion), plus all the other structures, all of which would burn in the tragic fire of 1908 (when six lives were lost). More relevant to what's going on today: The water, an estimated 200 to 300 gallons per minute, draining from the portal.
You see, in the 1980s, when Gerber Minerals went in to open the Gold King Mine back up again, it didn't need a discharge permit from the state because #7 Level was virtually dry, draining just a few gallons per minute or less. (Bill Simon emphasized that it wasn't totally dry -- he did some work there in the 1980s and the crew left an excavator in the portal. When they came back a few months later, the machine's tracks had been eaten away by the acidic water).
But starting in the late 1990 or early 2000s after bulkheads were installed in the American Tunnel, the mine started discharging again. This photo indicates that that water was simply returning to its historic, pre-American Tunnel path. Stay tuned for more...