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Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Nitty Gritty Context Behind the Gold King Mine Animas River Spill and the Sunnyside Mine

While digging through old material I had written about the Upper Animas River Watershed and its acid mine drainage problem, I stumbled upon a piece from the Silverton Mountain Journal, 2001. It's about the Sunnyside mine, which is adjacent to the Gold King in the upper Cement Creek drainage. You can read it below, but first, a little overview of the current situation: 

The Gold King -- the mine that had the blowout that resulted in the 3 million gallon Animas River Spill -- was last mined in the 1920s. After that, it had presumably discharged acidic, heavy metal loaded water, or acid mine drainage, though no one was paying attention to that sort of thing at the time. In 1959, Standard Metals dug the American Tunnel as a new way to access the existing and already extensive Sunnyside Mine, which previously had been accessed from the other side of the mountain, near Eureka.

It is now generally believed that when the American Tunnel was built, it intercepted groundwater that was otherwise headed for the Gold King and other nearby mines, the Mogul and Red and Bonita. That caused the discharge from those mines to virtually dry up. Instead, it came out the American Tunnel at a rate of as much as 1,500 gallons per minute. 

About a year after the following story was published, Sunnyside Gold Corp. signed a deal with the state and Gold King Mining, then owned by Steve Fearn, a local who wanted to revive mining in the area. Gold King would take over Sunnyside's water treatment plant, and Sunnyside would give Fearn a bunch of cash to keep it running, presumably until he could establish his own cash flow to operate it. The plant would treat water that had begun to discharge from the nearby mines, probably as a result of the American Tunnels' bulkheads (more details below on what a bulkhead is and how the treatment plant works).

Before long, things fell apart. A massive snowstorm shut down the road between Silverton and the plant, and avalanches wiped out power lines, taking the plant offline for a period, and apparently damaging it. Then Gold King got into a legal tussle with Todd Hennis, owner of San Juan Corp and Salem Minerals, and another major player in efforts to get mining going again in the San Juans (Hennis owned nearby mines, as well as land under a portion of the water treatment ponds). After that, Gold King Inc. pretty much went belly up, and the water treatment plant stopped operating. Meanwhile, water backing up in the Sunnyside apparently found the old natural fractures it had once followed, and made its way back to the Gold King and other mines, where discharge increased.

The impact on downstream life was significant, summed up by this one simple graph from a Colorado Parks and Wildlife fish count done on the upper Animas River in 2010. In the graph, Teft (blue line) refers to the spot on the Animas near its confluence with Cascade Creek, some 25 miles downstream from Silverton. Elk Park (red line) is about five miles below Silverton.
The Gold King history doesn't stop there, though. Eventually, Hennis took ownership of the Gold King. Meanwhile, yet another company, Colorado Goldfields, arrived in hopes of mining the San Juans. Hennis got involved in the company, eventually becoming its President and CEO, and together they had plans to mine the Gold King.

A 2008 SEC filing by Colorado Goldfields eerily presaged recent events:

Before long Hennis and Colorado Goldfields had their own falling out, and their own legal battle. They severed ties and the company dropped plans to mine the Gold King. Here's another SEC filing from 2011.

Today, Colorado Goldfields is apparently kaput. Hennis still owns many mining claims in the upper Cement Creek area, including the Gold King. And he's continued to butt heads with the EPA. In 2011, at the same time he was fighting with Colorado Goldfields, the EPA had to issue an administrative order to Hennis forcing him to give access to the mines so that they could investigate the mines for environmental impact. Now, Hennis is pinning responsibility on Sunnyside Gold Corp. for the discharge from the Gold King that ultimately led to the Aug. 5 blowout.

Here's the deep Sunnyside background:

Wrapping up Reclamation: the San Juans' last big mine is ready to leave for good
by Jonathan Thompson, Silverton Mountain Journal
copyright 2001

Nestled almost directly in the center of the Silverton Caldera, the old townsite of Gladstone has been the focus of a great deal of talk and activity lately. Backcountry skiers have flocked to the area to test the terrain of the Silverton Mountain Ski Area; and Gladstone offers a stunning view of Storm Peak, the termination point for a proposed, multi-million dollar scenic tram.

But the most significant thing happening in the valley has been largely ignored by the sightseers, skiers, and the media. Over the past decade, Sunnyside Gold Corporation has spent millions of dollars cleaning up a mess in this valley and its surroundings. If all goes according to plan, the clean-up effort will end this fall, seven employees will be laid-off, and the longest-running mine in the San Juans will be shut down forever.

But even after the last tailings pile is capped and revegetated, and the maze of tunnels bored over the past century and a quarter are plugged, the stories will remain. There are two stories here. One is the turbulent history of the county's major mine during its first 100 years. The other, more contentious story began in the 1970's when the Clean Water Act was implemented. This story is one whose plot is muddled by philosophical, ethical, scientific, and political questions.

The first story ended in 1991 when the last bucket of ore was hauled out of the Sunnyside Mine. The second story drags on.

By mid-afternoon in early March, it seems as if we are doomed to spend yet another day under cold, grey skies. Slush season is in full force and the Gladstone road is difficult to navigate. It is a grim day for an interview and the corrugated metal buildings of the Sunnyside Gold Corporation seem an equally grim setting. But inside, it is warm and dry, a comfortable relief from the damp chill outside.

That is not to say that the mine's offices are cush and corporate. Overhead, a waterpipe is wrapped sloppily in Christmas tinsel as though it were heat tape. And in the center of the conference room table sits a well-used ashtray. It is a reminder of an earlier time. It is also a reminder that, while the men working at this mine have not moved any ore out of its tunnels for ten years, they are still miners, and, for a little while longer, they will live and work as miners.

Larry Perino has overseen Sunnyside's award-winning reclamation work for the past five years and has worked for Sunnyside Gold Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Echo Bay Mines, since 1988. A Silverton native, his mining career began three decades ago with Standard Metals. It is a steady career, taking breaks only in the first few years to pursue a degree in civil engineering.

Perino is tall and thin, a handsome man whose Italian ancestry is apparent. He is soft-spoken and taciturn, and his acceptance to be interviewed was less than enthusiastic. As we sit down at the table, I worry that the interview may not be very productive.

But those worries are soon erased as Perino tells the often confusing, and sometimes bizarre, story of the Sunnyside over the past few decades. His intelligence, and vast knowledge of the mine and the issues surrounding it, become clear as he explains how the story has been shaped by regulatory agencies, differences in philosophy, and the unique and complex geology that characterizes the region.

Not far from where Perino and I sit is the portal of the American Tunnel. Walk a mile into that dark, damp world, and you will be stopped by a giant, concrete plug the size of a railroad boxcar. Behind the plug is water, backed up for thousands of feet in a maze of drifts, shafts, crosscuts, and stopes that make up the vast workings of the Sunnyside Mine.

That the mine's grave is a watery one seems appropriate. Mining is no friend of the environment. It turns the innards of mountains into something that resembles Swiss cheese and scatters tailings piles, mine dumps, and abandoned buildings and equipment across the landscape. But it is the impact mining has on water quality that brings on the pressure from regulatory agencies. And it is the issue of acid mine drainage, and its toxic effects on the Animas River watershed, that has kept the Sunnyside Gold Corporation in this valley longer than it ever could have anticipated, cleaning up a mess that was started over a hundred years before the Sunnyside Gold Corporation ever came into being.

One of the earliest major mines to operate in the county and the last to cease production, the story of the Sunnyside Mine is a rich and often troubled one. In 1873, even before the Brunot Treaty freed up the San Juans for Anglo exploration and exploitation, Ruben McNutt and George Howard staked a claim to the Sunnyside Mine, located on the shores of Lake Emma.

For the next sixty years, development at the mine proceeded at a frantic pace. Mills were built, then replaced; strikes were made, and prices plummeted; operators struck it rich, only to go broke soon thereafter. Meanwhile, the town of Eureka was built upon the foundation of the Sunnyside and its ebbs and flows coincided with the mine's.

In 1939, the mine finally seemed to have no more to offer. The Sunnyside closed and Eureka was abandoned. Fourteen years later, the Shenandoah-Dives also closed, leaving San Juan County without a major mining operator in its midst. The fifties brought hard times to Silverton. But in 1959, Standard Uranium drove the American Tunnel from Gladstone and reopened the Sunnyside workings from below, resurrecting the dormant mine.

Standard Metals became the county's major mine operator and hundreds were employed at the Sunnyside Mine for the next 35 years. Like every operator before it, Standard Metals bore tunnels through the mineral rich mountains. And, as had been happening for nearly a century, the opening of the mountains aggravated an already existing problem: pollution of the area streams in the form of acid mine drainage.

Throughout the Silverton Caldera, water, oxygen, and the abundant iron pyrite combine, react, and form an acidic solution. The acids in the water dissolve heavy metals that occur naturally in the rocks and hillsides, and those toxic metals such as cadmium, arsenic, lead, and zinc. Although the process can happen naturally, mining exacerbates the problem by exposing more pyrites and metals to water and oxygen.

As a result, water that pours out of mine portals is often contaminated with toxic heavy metals that harm or kill aquatic life, such as bugs and fish, that might otherwise live in the streams. Currently, acid mine drainage is considered the greatest water quality issue facing the American West. But for decades, the problem was virtually ignored or accepted as the inevitable result of utilizing the country's abundant natural resources.

Such was the case at the Sunnyside mine in general and at the American Tunnel in particular for a long time. More than 1,000 gallons of contaminated water flowed out of the American Tunnel each minute, depositing hundreds of pounds of toxic heavy metals into the Animas River watershed each day.

But in the 1970's, the Clean Water Act was implemented. That changed everything. Mines, sewage treatment plants, factories, and anyone else who discharged water into streams or lakes was required to acquire Colorado Department of Health and Environment permits for discharge. Standard Metals was no exception and, as part of its permit, it was required to treat the water flowing from the American Tunnel.

A water treatment plant was constructed and the discharge from the tunnel entered Cement Creek somewhat cleaner than before, but still loaded with toxic metals.

In 1978, Standard Metals suffered a major setback when it drove a tunnel too close to the floor of Lake Emma. The lake's floor broke through, flooding the tunnels with water and muck. The mine survived this blow, mucked out the complex, and resumed operations. But in 1985, Standard Metals called it quits at the Sunnyside and filed for bankruptcy. In hindsight, Echo Bay may have preferred to just let things be. Instead, the large company which operates mines in the United States and Canada bought the battered mine and, in 1986, resumed production.

When Echo Bay, operating as Sunnyside Gold Corp, came in, it found that the treatment plant was not up to par, and was still allowing around 100 pounds of one toxic metal, zinc, to flow into Cement Creek. (There were other toxic metals being discharged, as well). During its tenure at the mine, SGC improved the plant and reduced metal loading to about four pounds per day. According to one estimate, the plant was costing the company about $500,000 a year to operate.

This is where the plot twists around, leaving the reader of the story lost and baffled. Because of the way the law works, Sunnyside brought the water quality of its discharges up to a level that would support flathead minnows, a sensitive species used to test toxicity of water. Ironically, this water was then dumped into Cement Creek, a highly toxic, iron-filled, orange stream that never did and never will support any type of fish, let alone a sensitive species like flathead minnows.

The concept of requiring virtual purification of the American Tunnel discharge is based on the theory that if the mine had never existed, the water would emerge as a pure and natural spring, with only negligible amounts of toxic metals. This is where the regulation process gets messy. No one, neither scientists nor the regulators, can say with any confidence that the hypothetical natural springs would have run pure.

Sunnyside Gold Corp. may have been more successful at cleaning up their water than Standard Metals was, but they fared no better at making the mine profitable. Reclamation work began in 1988, and in 1991, only five years after taking over operations, Sunnyside Gold decided to cut its losses and production ceased, this time for good.

Two or three decades earlier, a mining company in the same situation would have simply walked away, looking for a new prospect. The thought of cleaning up after one's self is a relatively new concept in the mining industry.

But by the time Sunnyside Gold had come on the scene, things had changed. Environmental responsibility was a matter of law. A company with more modern sensibilities, Echo Bay takes pride in its relative sensitivity towards the environment. Calling itself an environmental leader of the mining industry, walking away from the Sunnyside without complying fully with its discharge and reclamation permits would be a blow to Echo Bay's pocketbook and its public image.

Before it could walk, Sunnyside would need to be released from two permits. The first was from the Colorado Division of Minerals and Geology for the reclamation plan. Sunnyside proposal to remove mining buildings, consolidate and re-vegetate waste rock and tailings, and divert surface water flowing from the mine was approved by the Division.

But murkier waters would need to be navigated before the Department of Health would release the company from its American Tunnel discharge permit.

Sunnyside's plan was to plug and completely seal the tunnel making it impossible for water to flow out. The water treatment plant would be closed and dismantled. Water would build up behind the plug until equilibrium was reached and reemerge from springs which, in theory, would discharge water similar to that of pre-mining, natural conditions.

What seemed a simple and effective solution to Sunnyside was full of holes in the eyes of the Health Department's Water Quality Control Division. It wanted to treat each spring and seep that emerged as a result of plugging the mine as a separate, point-source discharger of potential pollution that would be held to the same standards as the treated water flowing from the American Tunnel.

It was a vexing situation to Sunnyside and others in the mining industry. By treating its discharges so successfully, Sunnyside had raised that standards to a level that may have been better than existed naturally. Because of natural metal loading, the industry felt that the minute Sunnyside shut down its treatment plant, water quality would inevitably deteriorate.

"Things were bound to get worse," says Perino, clearly not pleased with the health department's position. "The question is: Who is responsible?"

The Water Quality Control Division lay the blame on Sunnyside and continued to insist that each spring and seep would require a discharge permit. Sunnyside argued that to do so would be to hold the mine operator responsible for nature's mess. It was a virtual life sentence, condemning Sunnyside to remain in the basin treating dozens of springs for eternity, or at least until the company ran out of money.

So, in 1994, Sunnyside sued the state.

After two years of negotiations and constant legal wrangling, Sunnyside Gold Corporation and the Colorado Water Quality Control Division reached a precedent-setting, out of court settlement known as a consent decree. The idea was that the goals of both sides would be reached: water quality would not deteriorate from its present levels, and Sunnyside, its mess cleaned up, would be able to leave the basin.

"There is no mechanism in the discharge laws for release from a site that has continuous discharge," notes Perino. "The consent decree is a mechanism to solve those problems." But the solution has proven to be difficult, time consuming, and very costly to Sunnyside. And questions about its effectiveness remain.

Under the decree, Sunnyside would plug the American Tunnel and stop water treatment. The state would still hold Sunnyside to the standards that Sunnyside itself, in effect, created. Any deterioration in water quality after treatment was ceased would indicate a failure of Sunnyside to live up to its side of the bargain.

Since it is generally agreed that water quality will decrease at the moment treatment ceases, Sunnyside agreed to clean up several other sites before shutting down its treatment plant. In theory, reclamation of these additional sites (Sunnyside never mined at any of these sites) would reduce zinc levels enough that it would provide a water quality "cushion" of sorts.

Or as J. David Holm, Director of the WQCD at the time put it, "Any water quality problems resulting from seeps and springs following mine closure must be fully compensated for by the performance of reclamation projects at nearby abandoned mines."

It has been almost five years since the Consent Decree was signed in May of 1996. That same year, the valve was sealed shut on the main bulkhead in the American Tunnel along with five other bulkheads in various adits of the Sunnyside Mine. As a result, water backed up and flooded much of the workings of the entire Sunnyside complex of tunnels before the "mine pool" reached equilibrium (the tunnels will not fill up any further and, contrary to popular belief, water will never reach the level of Lake Emma).

When the pool reached equilibrium, 652 tons of lime was injected into it in order to increase alkalinity and decrease acidity in the old workings of the mine. The theory is that this will help decrease the acidity of seeps and springs that result from the backup of water in the mine.
Meanwhile, Sunnyside has conducted reclamation work in Eureka, up Placer Gulch, at Lake Emma, at Howardsville, and even at the headwaters of Mineral Creek, all with the goal of reducing the levels of zinc in the water at the monitoring station below Silverton. And, in order to provide a temporary water quality cushion while reclamation work was being done, water has actually been diverted from Cement Creek at the mine, treated to a very high standard, and then returned to the creek.

This summer, contingent on the award of permits, Sunnyside will put two additional bulkheads in the American Tunnel, cutting off all water discharge. Water treatment will end this fall, the employees will be laid off, and the state's monitoring period will begin.

All in all, Sunnyside has spent over $10 million in direct reclamation costs since 1991 and additional overhead costs may meet or exceed that amount. That is compared to only $2 million that has been spent by the combination of operators and agencies besides Sunnyside Gold in the basin during the same time frame.

It is generally believed that more money has been spent on reclamation by Sunnyside Gold in the last ten years than was reaped in profit from the mine over the previous 117 years. But is it enough? Will it ever be enough?

In accordance with the consent decree, monitoring of zinc levels in the river below Silverton will begin as soon as Sunnyside's water treatment plant is shut down. Monitoring will last at least one year, and maybe two, in order to get a picture of water quality at a full range of flows in the river.

The minute Sunnyside stops treating Cement Creek water, the water quality will drastically deteriorate. The question is, will the additional reclamation projects completed by Sunnyside be enough to offset that deterioration and keep water quality levels at or better than those in 1996?
At this point it is difficult to tell. According to Perino, there has been a general trend of decrease in zinc levels at the monitoring station, but that the trend has been broken by seasonal fluctuations and "spikes" in the level of zinc that are significantly higher than before. Given the extent of reclamation work done by Sunnyside, it must be frustrating not to see a definite, vast improvement.

That there has not been a direct correlation between remediation work and water quality demonstrates the complexity of the problem of acid mine drainage in this particular area. It shows that solving the problem is not as simple as just cleaning up the mines, and conversely, it demonstrates that the problem's cause is not simply the presence of abandoned mines.

There may be other explanations, as well. Animas River Stakeholders Group Coordinator Bill Simon says that water quality has improved at its monitoring station on Mineral Creek as well as the station at Baker's Bridge, about 25 miles downstream. That similar results were not found at A-72 is probably because Mineral Creek, Cement Creek, and the Animas River mix immediately above the station, according to Simon.

Perino also believes that the data collected prior to 1996 may have been incomplete. "This area is not typical," he says. "There is no 'typical' year. That means the 'baseline' data may or may not represent the true baseline."

And remediation work itself may also be causing problems with monitoring. "It is really difficult to show trends when many activities are occurring in the basin," noted Simon. "Remediation initially can cause disturbances resulting in higher than normal metal concentrations. These settle down in time."

Under the terms of the consent decree, if the Water Quality Control Division finds that zinc levels have increased at the monitoring station, which seems possible at this point, it could refuse to let Sunnyside out of its discharge permits. This would mean Sunnyside would either have to do more reclamation or forego the $5 million dollar bond it posted with the state.

But things have changed in the five years since the consent decree was signed. Extensive monitoring and data analysis by the Animas River Stakeholders Group and other agencies have demonstrated that acid mine drainage has no simple causes, nor does it have simple solutions. Natural background metal loading, they have found, contributes more pollution to the watershed than abandoned mines do.

"It's always good to finish a project," says Perino, anticipating the approaching day when the company is released from its permits and is allowed to cease its existence. But the the triumph seems tempered by a bittersweet knowledge that the successful completion of this project also marks the end of the job for him and the employees he manages.

It also marks the end of the second Sunnyside story. It is a story of responsibility more than anything else; a story of a mining company buying a hundred year old business, operating it properly for five years, then being forced to clean up the mess left by over a century of disregard for the environment. It is a story of that company being held partially responsible for a mess that Nature, herself, may have made thousands of years before man ever set foot in the basin.

Questions about the definitions of pollution, about how far environmental regulation should go, and about the responsibilities corporations have to the environment surround this story along with the age old query: What part do we play in this elusive entity we call Nature?

The answers, if they exist, are not easily found. But even after the story is forgotten, the questions it raised will linger.


  1. Thank you so much for this article. Since, 1996, I've lived on the Animas north of Durango, and had heard in the last few years about the deterioration of river ecosystem that would have occurred about 10 years ago. I hope our community can respond appropriately with this history in mind.

  2. Fascinating article, Jonathan - thanks!

  3. That's a fantastic price of the history, thank you. I took some time and downloaded the 2011 EPA order against San Juan and Henning. It includes a complete listing of the claims they hold/held in the drainage basin and includes a map in the exhibits that show each claim's geographic location. The American Tunnel claim makes a b-line from the mouth to the original Sunnyside mine. Along its path, the closest adit to the American Tunnel is... Gold King #7. Given the original flow of 1000+ gallons per minute in the tunnel prior to the cement plug, some speculation can be made about potential flow to other adits. Current flow from the #7 is in excess of 600 gallons per minute. Other adits have been estimated to be more that 500 combined (from your article). All great information. Again, thank you. This is the most concise public record anywhere.

  4. Price, piece. Both are apt. I am still missing the actual press release from Nancy Agro from San Juan Corps. I am not able to find any historical record of the sealing of the mine last year either. What I find most interesting is that Mr. Griswold was a temporary site manager. Who was the regular site manager, and what would they have to say about what was done. There's a story...

  5. The EPAOSC site profile including all photos from Sept 11,2014 to August 12, 2015 has been taken down. Surprised? From what I kept on my computer I can compare to the Red&Bonita work done the week previously:
    It is the same crew. So after they did the mucking of Red&Bonita, they moved over to the #7. They very likely didn't have any equipment for water containment for the #7 because it was all deployed at the Red&Bonita. Someone made the call to begin digging the adit out before any containment berms were prepared. That was not the SOP at the Red&Bonita.

    I was able to find a good map source for the underground mine worksof the Red&Bonita, Sunnyside, and the Gold King all on one map. The American Tunnel runs right through (over or under?) the entirety of the Gold King.

  6. Hey all, especially Anonymous, thanks for the informed comments. Very interesting, and I'll be following up.

  7. Check out my comments here

    you could spend months sifting through all the information at

    1. I'm looking for some clarity on the history of the cement plugs and their physical locations within the American Tunnel. Pat has shown documents that state the main Sunnyside plug would have been at the permit edge, or roughly 8,000 ft from the American Tunnel entrance. In Jonathan's account from 2001 he talks about personally walking "a mile" into the Tunnel where he finds the cement plug. Could either of you help explain or provide documentation? This is somewhat important in that between those two distances lies the Gold King mine works and the fault system.

    2. Actually, I didn't walk the mile into the tunnel, I rode in an ore car. And I may be mistaken, but I believe that would have been in 1996 or 1997, during my first stint with the Silverton Standard, when Sunnyside folks took me in to show me the bulkhead. They said we rode a mile into the tunnel, but that may have been a rough estimate. I'm sure, though, that the documentation on it exists, probably with the state, since that's who held the Sunnyside's permit.

    3. 7950 feet according to the document link I just posted. This document also lists the places where water enters the tunnel before the NO 1 bulkhead.


    4. Thanks Pat. I got the link by just adding the aspx to the end of your cut and paste.

      The link that you provided highlights what was being done to the American Tunnel in 2001 and the locations of the cement Bulkheads. Everyone who is interested in a very detailed engineering report read this:

      So, I think we can put a bow on the bulkhead story now for the American Tunnel. In addition to the Bulkhead #1 located 7950 ft from the Gladstone entrance, two bulkheads were installed. Bulkhead #2 is located 2000 ft from the entrance. Bulkhead #3 is located 375 ft from the entrance. Jonathan's account of ore car adventures prior to 2001 may have been all the way back to #1. I won't add much more to that tangent but focus on the basics of the report. The Tunnel is 750 ft below it's closest point to the Gold King #7 entrance. The report does not include information past the 3400 foot part so we can't see where the American Tunnel begins to rise and terminate at the #1 Bulkhead. Pat, if you can find anything on that, it could begin to piece together a better overall account. There is some great water chemistry that showed inflow to the American Tunnel changed chemistry from fresh to acid mine discharge, with significantly increased flow, from a fault zone, directly below the lowest point of the Gold King mine at the #7 entrance. That's pretty cool.

    5. The entrance to the #7 has been fraught with complications throughout it's history.In fact the entrance that they back-hoed on August 5th was the "new" one. The old one had long since collapsed. As had the "new " one, more than once. I would go out on a limb here and suggest that you probably couldn't have picked a crappier entrance point for a mine. It's in a shear zone. How in blazes did they think that bulkheading the #7, even temporarily, would be successful at holding back the groundwater?

  8. Thanks Pat. The drmsweblink digging you did saved a lot of time. There is some good information on how far into the adits work has been done and when. To editorialize a bit: the #7 has been largely un-investigated sine 1991 due to collapses. Several attempts to gain access, leading up to the 2014 EPA work, have failed to get past the first 30 feet. The 2014 work appears to have been done to temporarily inhibit acid mine discharge, until the 2015 field season. The #7 is the lowest point of the entire Gold King mine works and is therefore the "drain". The American Tunnel is beneath the #7 entrance, according to documents. Those documents also state that the closest distance between the Sunnyside works and Gold King works is 500 feet. From the diagrams, that appears to be accurate. But the American Tunnel reaches the elevation of the #7 at roughly 3/4 of the way up the tunnel to the Sunnyside. At this point, very roughly 7500 feet from the entrance of the American Tunnel you have the majority of the Gold King works sitting 500 feet above, in the fault zone. When the American tunnel was opened, in my opinion, it became the "drain" for the Gold King. Once the American Tunnel was filled, the drain was plugged, hydro-static pressure in the Gold King increased, and the ground water filling the mine reached the #7. It would be hard for San Juan Corp. to argue two points. First that the variable discharge of #7 is not related to seasonal groundwater, and second that the Sunnyside mine works 500 feet below are discharging into the #7. Now to do some digging into site investigations of the American Tunnel prior to the cement plug.

    1. I would like to see a 3D model of the area showing the known faults and mine workings. Something you could look at in different angles.

      Did anybody read the article that had the history of the American Tunnel in it?


    2. Isn't there someone in Silverton who remembers what the flow of water out of the Gold King/American Tunnel was prior to 1959 (before Standard Metals enlarged and then extended it)?


    3. I suppose there might be people who were involved in boring the American Tunnel who might remember what the flows looked like, but there was no need for a discharge permit back then, so probably no one bothered to quantify the flows.

      One other thing to consider in all of this: I suspect, though haven't confirmed this, that Sunnyside Gold Corp would have bulkheaded the Gold King, Mogul and Red and Bonita before leaving the Basin, either by their own accord or by state order. Except that the owners of those mines wanted to mine them again, so they couldn't. Just something to consider.

    4. Pat, I did read the history. It is interesting to note that the American Tunnel was originally created to act as a drain and connect to the Gold King. Your link to the Tunnel bulkhead was broken, if you could re-check I will look at it. Thanks.
      Jonathan, the Gold King looks like it always had periodic issues with inflow, hence why they would have gone to the trouble of building the first 5000 feet of the American.

    5. I think the Gold King owners started the Gold King Tunnel for the same purposes that Standard Metals enlarged and extended it. Haulage and drainage. I wonder why the original tunnel was abandoned. In Allan Bird's book "Silverton Gold" he tells of finding a rock drill set up and ready to drill at the end of the abandoned tunnel.

    6. And another observation. If one looks at the 1955 USGS Ironton Topo Map, what is now called the American Tunnel is labelled as Gold King Mine. The area where the spill occurred is labelled Upper Gold King Mine.


    7. Same situation is generated at this site in its Silverton mines section, where it places pin locators on satellite views of Gold King and Upper Gold King.

    8. For the old Gold King Mine, the mill was located in Gladstone where the American Tunnel currently sits. The American Tunnel was driven in the early 1900's to provide a connection to the #7 level, which would eliminate the two aerial trams from the mine to the mill. The AT was driven approximately 7000 feet to the end of the claims. It was never attached to the Gold King Mine 850 feet above. It is 5000 feet from the portal to the area below the main workings, which is called the mile siding.

      GK and the Sunnyside don't come any closer than 1800 feet from each other. In the 1960's Standard Metals leased the AT and widened the first 7000 feet and then drove it another 3000 feet to the Sunnyside workings.

      Flows from AT during the 70's-90's varied from 1500-5000 gpm depending on the spring runoff. After Lake Emma broke the flows increased since the surface runoff now flowed into the mine. In the mid 1980's flows at the Gold King averaged 5-15 gpm.

      Hope this helps.

  9. A commenter at last night's WUWT post brings me here. Paul Driessen used my screencaptures of EPA's now-deleted photo collection of the Gold King incident as an intro to his guest post there: On Aug 12 I thought I had created a fully functional archive link of the complete collection but not it only picks up the last five photos: . I've just now found out another site has a "Wanted Dead or Alive" appeal for anyone who saved the whole original EPA collection:

    Myself, what got me involved was that these mines were essentially in my 'vacation backyard' every summer for the last 13 years in a row, and it bugged me how the media was so vague about where this took place. In my efforts to find the exact spot, I found EPA's page for the Gold King incident. More info on Todd Hennis' efforts here:

    1. From your Hennis interview above this is an interesting quote:
      "The pool is so much higher than anyone anticipated behind those bulkheads," Hennis says. "The force of the water is much more than was planned, and if there's a seismic event, it will open up fissures and faults. Gold King released around three million gallons. We could have billions and billions of gallons. It would run for months and affect rivers all the way down to the Mexican border."

      Is this area seismically active? If it is active, no one has brought that up before. Any opinion or reports? I would tend to think that Mr. Hennis likes to embellish a bit.

      From the Tunnel report 1978:
      "The only method of mining engaged in at the Standard Metals' Sunnyside Mine is termed shrink stoping, with the total excavation operation taking place nearly 2,000 feet below the ground surface. The operation is thus unrelated to any surface disturbance, except for the area surrounding the active America Tunnel portal area, which may be classified as a moderately disturbed area."

    2. ..(Alan Prendergast's interview of Hennis, just so that is clear)..

      Beats me, Hennis could be merely guessing about some kind of subsidence or shift that might cause whatever's blocking not to block as effectively. One could be optimistic and guess that if a torrent was somehow unleashed, debris within it could block the thing back up again.

      Likely a convention of geologists and mining engineers would have a rough time speculating what can or can't happen. For an idiot tourist like me, it was just amusing to find EPA's photos and see them up for just 10 days, and find out they've vanished with no explanation. One of the other commenters at the WUWT piece I linked to ("John, August 19, 2015 at 7:34 am") claims to have an EPA contact who said "EPA has issued a 'legal hold' on all related documents related to the spill". Okay. But this is something which happened after 10 or so days of a nationally-seen media event? Clumsy evidence handling only piles onto a situation of possible ineptitude on handling the physics of the geology situation.

    3. You state that unofficially the EPA has issued a 'legal hold'. I think that's a perfectly acceptable action. I wonder though why the haven't made a public statement about it though. It was a resource to find out discharge rates etc. as well as photos.
      If you want to see the crew the week before, working at the Red&Bonita, you can hit the link to the EPA2 site I posted on the 17th.

    4. @Anonymous - yep, others wonder about that, too. Haven't found an official EPA explanation yet, myself. Saw the link about the crew at Red & Bonita, very helpful info that I passed along to one of the guys working on the larger story here. It is an ever-developing one as more folks learn about the whole situation.

  10. On a lighter note. Did anybody read the letter from Allen Nossaman that is on page 30 of this series of documents in this link I posted?

    Anybody who new, or new of, Allen will chuckle.


    1. Pat: Great letter from Allen. What a great guy he was. Thanks for pointing it out.

  11. Excellent.... you are saying the same points, and facts, I have been trying to explain to folks!

    I'm not sure if I agree, that Lake Emma will not start to fill back up however, but I'm not up on some details.
    Although there is, or are, bulkheads in the American, between Upper Gold King & Sunnyside, they are still connected through faults, slips, cracks, vugs & fissures. Enough to transfer water that kind of distance...I don't know, but I would guess yes. That area is one big busted up mass of ground.

    No doubt, water is draining through the bottom of Lake Emma and elsewhere, into Sunnyside, so even if protected from water from 'the other side', I have to wonder if the workings are not filling up.

    Has the Terry Portal on the Eureka side been bulkheaded? How many other drifts intersect, or are close to the Sunnyside workings, and at lower elevations, have been plugged....or not? Silver Prince is certainly in the neighborhood, although, I believe it's higher. Again....most all of the mines in the area, are connected to varying degrees, geologically. The real estate is like a big sponge.

    One of my thoughts, on what is happening, due to all the plugging, is the creation of one very large leach tank, or possibly several very large leach tanks.

    Your thoughts Jonathan?

    1. Before Jonathan replies, look at the post above from Aug 19th on the mining report.

      There is detailed work that shows the mine drainage from the #1 Bulkhead at 7950 ft to roughly the 3100 ft level is FRESH. Notwithstanding the #2 bulkhead is positioned at 2000 ft, the American Tunnel does not appear to collect acid mine discharge under the entirety of the above Gold King works. Furthermore, once that section between #1 and #2 was sealed, and then filled with Fresh water (and acid mine/groundwater from the 3200 ft to 2900 ft fault zone), the whole Tunnel would revert back to hydrodynamic pressure. In other words, it would stop "flowing". If the fault zone was in fact leaky, the fresh water would likely begin to follow it out, rather than the acid water moving back up dip to fill the Gold King.

    2. I think you missed my point.

      I am questioning the statement "the tunnels will not fill up any further and, contrary to popular belief, water will never reach the level of Lake Emma."

      The reason water is discharging from the Red & Bonita, and the Upper Gold King, and Mogul for that the water level was raised by the three bulkheads, and apparently others, blocking the drainage at lower altitudes.

      Hydrostatic pressure increases, on the Gold King side, so does the propensity for water to leak through faults and slips, and around those bulkheads. Makes no matter if it's fresh or not.

      Also, water must be entering Sunnyside through Lake Emma and surrounding area.. It certainly did in 1978. What is stopping it now, and....where is that water going? Is the water still draining through the Terry, or is that plugged? Or is the Sunnyside slowing filling as well, and destined to come leaking out of other portals in the future?

      If the EPA is planning on jammin' plug after plug, as water level and water flow is changed, and leaks pop up, I think it best not to forget about the other end of the American, which is the actual Sunnyside Mine. Better to not be surprised if and when they create a new leak. A little planning, and get some people that know what they are doing would help. (ie; non-EPA folks)

      "Today's solutions are tomorrows problems"

    3. I'm not familiar with all the technical details by any means, but the way I understood Larry Perino when he said that Lake Emma will never fill back up is that the mine pool would reach equilibrium long before it backed up that far. That is to say, there'd be just as much water seeping out of various cracks and faults as was going in via various cracks and faults (I assume that the opening created when Lake Emma burst through the tunnel has somehow been closed off, for safety reasons, but it may still allow water to enter).

    4. Or, wait, another possibility for what equilibrium means, and I think this is what Sunnyside would argue now: When the American Tunnel was built in 1959 (at the old Gold King mine), it diverted a lot of groundwater that would have otherwise gone elsewhere, such as into the upper Gold King -- the one that blew out. Once the water, backed up behind the bulkheads, filled the mine workings to a certain point, that groundwater wouldn't be able to enter it any more, and it would return to its earlier, pre-1959 path, draining into the Gold King. That is: The water going into the Gold King is not coming from the Sunnyside, but is naturally occurring groundwater returning to its old stomping grounds.

    5. "The reason water is discharging from the Red & Bonita, and the Upper Gold King, and Mogul for that the water level was raised by the three bulkheads, and apparently others, blocking the drainage at lower altitudes."

      We have to stop right there. The American Tunnel portal is at an elevation of 10,600'. The ore car would have traveled relatively level and remains at a very gradual elevation climb until at least the #1 Bulkhead. Jonathan should be able to confirm this. The #7 adit is the lowest point of the Gold King mine and is at an elevation of roughly 11,400'. The LOWEST point (and sorry for yelling but that fact is important) of the #7 and the highest point of the American tunnel are said to be 500 feet apart. That would still all have to be below.
      Hydrostatic pressure increases with depth. If a very minor void deep in the mountain was made, it would create a localized pressure sink, allowing fresh water to "ooze" out of the host rock. If there was a fracture, and that fracture was open and connected to groundwater, it would fill up very quickly. In either account, once the void was filled, the inflow would stop as equilibrium was reached. It's a top down thing. There is nothing artesian going on here.

    6. I understand equilibrium, but am just questioning how he determined at what elevation it would be.
      Portal elevations (FASL) are as follows: (approximately, as I've found varying data while searching & looking at maps)
      American: 10,617
      Red & Bonita: 10,981
      Upper Gold King: 11,463
      Mogul: 11,457

      As I understand it, the water flow out of Upper Gold King was 5-7 GPM prior to the American Tunnel bulkheads, and wasn't a concern. Now, after several days, it's at 500-600 GPM.....still. This tells me the water level has been 'pushed' above 11,463. And....the American, although bulkheaded, is leaking approx 100 GPM, which is no surprise considering the ground.

      Lake Emma, again, if what I read is correct is approx 12,257 FASL. Some of the ground in the American is more competent, and not mined, past the Gold King and before the Sunnyside. And, there's a bulkhead in there besides. I would guess water is leaking through, just at a much slower rate.
      Also, if they had sealed off Lake Emma where it burst through in 1978, it would be a lake again, would it not? So the other question, is where is the water going that drains into Sunnyside, from Lake Emma and surrounding area? This is why I wondered about the Terry Portal, approx 11,600 FASL, and if the EPA has plugged it, or plans to, or other portals on that side.

      I have dealt with the EPA. I'm much more concerned with them, than what the earth does. Their incompetence is only surpassed by their arrogance. I can tell you stories.....Simple question.....why would anyone plug a portal with a muckpile, and dig it back out without knowing what was behind it? Yet another story....

      I thought it was normal EPA types, being stupid, but reading Dave Taylor's letter to the Silverton Standard, I was not being cynical enough. Not even close.

      Can things be returned to what they were before 1874, by plugging every mine in the area? Maybe. No doubt in my mind, that acid water was draining before anyone got there. The geology says so. How did Cement Creek get it's name, and when? In 1876, they said the water in it was undrinkable. That's not long after they stared mining around there, and I doubt that the mining was the cause.
      The EPA will spend billions, to make the water cleaner than it has ever been, since the San Juans were formed. Trust me, this is how they operate.

      It's hard to track down exactly what the EPA has plugged in the area....I've read up to 12 bulkheads have been installed. If anyone knows where to find all that data, I'd like to know!

    7. Yes, the water comes in top down.
      Consider a swimming pool in the rain. It will fill up, from the top. pull the drain plug, it will empty.
      Same principle. Swimming pool is the mountain. Inflow of water is rain and melting snow. The American, is the lowest drain. Plugged, it filled up the pool to the next drain.

      You have to understand the ground. Not all, but most of these mines are connected by faults & crevices in the rock. This is especially true in mineralized areas. Keep pouring on water, things have to fill up, to a point where the water has no way to enter because the ground is saturated, or it's leaking out is so many places the inflow & outflow are equal. That's 'equilibrium'.

    8. I think you might finally be ready to accept the fail point in your logic.
      "This tells me the water level has been 'pushed' above 11,463. And....the American, although bulkheaded, is leaking approx 100 GPM, which is no surprise considering the ground."
      Water can't be pushed up, if you want to use the bathtub analogy, the edge of the tub is the mountain side. Gravity, variable snow pack, fractures, and Gold King mine works bring water to the #7.
      "The American, is the lowest drain. Plugged, it filled up the pool to the next drain. "
      There is pretty conclusive evidence that the American Tunnel has never been the drain plug for the Gold King.

    9. Nope. I'll concede that 'pushed up' was the wrong word. Just simple raising of the water level would be more appropriate.

      Water goes in mountain, and goes out American. To the tune of 700-1700 GPM, depending where you read. I never paid much attention to that while I was there, and didn't carry a weir in my back pocket to test it.
      5-7 GPM out of Upper Gold King, prior to American Bulkheads.
      American is bulkheaded, and flow is down from the American to 5-7 GPM.
      A few years later....Gold King flow is up to 300-500 GPM, again, depending where you read.
      EPA plugs the portal with muck and goes away for a year. Comes back, and digs at the plug to "take a look".
      They released not 500 GPM, but a full drift of water....all the drifts on that level, and probably some above. Splash. That tells me the water level was still rising. If they wouldn't have plugged the Gold King portal, there would have been no big splash, only a continual drain.

      I have seen no conclusive evidence that there is no connection between the American & Upper Gold King. I've been in the American, all the way thru to Sunnyside. They may not be connected by a raise, or a stope, or drifts, but as far as a natural connection thru slips & cracks, I'd bet they are, and, what is happening with the water level in the mountain, and water draining from Gold King, supports that.

    10. This is a great discussion, so I don't want to seem argumentative, and I will try to avoid words like "fail" from now on. You have to get your head around a couple of things.
      If the Gold King was connected to the American, it's signature would be acid mine discharge. There is no other way to put that. The study presented in the thread way up shows that the water under the Gold King is fresh and therefore part of the natural hydrodynamic system. It's cannot be directly linked, and is sealed at both ends. At the point near the #7 entrance is a fracture or shear zone. Almost directly below the #7 entrance - 750 feet below, is a fault found in the American Tunnel. The inflow into the tunnel at that point dramatically increases and has the PH and mineral content of acid mine discharge. The entrance portion of the American tunnel is described to be in a "moderately disturbed zone". The increased tunnel inflow suggests that this fault is transporting fluid down, not up. and that it is transporting water that has pooled and acidized.

      The second thing is that you propose is the groundwater contribution is static, and that variation in discharge is related to mine plugging. I would propose the opposite. The mine works are the known and the static part, and the amount of snowfall, summer rain, ground water level, and recharge is by far the largest variable.

      I think it is a missed opportunity if I didn't ask more about the American Tunnel and the mine works firsthand from you. Since you have been all the way to the end , tell me about what elevation the tunnel connects to the Sunnyside. Also, from the map it appears that there is one stope heading north from the main tunnel directly under the Gold King. What went on in there? And finally, from diagrams, it appears that it was relatively boring and flat past the 3100 foot distance of the American Tunnel. Was that your experience? Thanks in advance.

    11. I am not trying to be argumentative either. I'm just looking at this from a miners point of view, and have a few questions....and I'm not much a believer in 'studies', and always consider the source. (Engineers designed the did that work out?) I have been working in mines since 1972. Water.....has been a problem in some way or another, in about every mine I worked. It's something we have dealt with.....and can tell you about from several mines I have worked.

      The signature of the water that was, and probably is, being discharged in the American, is acid mine drainage. Same is obviously true for the Upper Gold King. I'm not saying that the acid mine drainage from the Gold King is coming from the American, I'm saying that the reason the Gold King is now draining at a much higher rate, is it no longer drains into the American. The water table is now higher, and without a place to go, it percolates thru the Gold King. When the EPA dammed up the Gold King portal, they effectively increased the contact time between the water coming in, from above, and the sulfides. basic metal/mineral leaching 101. Oops.

      Percolate water thru sulfides, and you get H2SO4. Run that acid thru those same sulfides, and you dissolve metals. Simple. Anything that increases the contact time between the water, O2, and the sulfides, increases the acidity, and total amount of metals in those sulfides that will be dissolved and held in solution. Again, simple.

      The water that was going into and thru the Gold King, was draining into the American. That's why Gold king started that drift to begin least my drain the upper workings. Probably for access too...for milling at Gladstone. Pretty common. Look up the Sutro Tunnel, or, The Argo in Idaho Springs. Many mines do that. Sometimes....not on happens.....

      If you plug the leaks at the lower levels, the water level will rise. Not from water moving up, but because it can no longer move down. Don't mess with will lose. The water level will continue to rise, until it finds another way out. Yes, that way out, in elevation, can easily change with the amount of rainfall, and snow, and how fast it melts. (I can tell you a story of another mine, where that was all to clear) No argument. But it either finds a way out, or the water level in the ground will keep on rising. How could it not?

      Last time I was underground there was in Echo Bay days (the late, great Echo Bay)....probably 1989 or 1990. If I remember correctly, the American went in at a half a %. That puts it at about 50-60 feet higher than the portal at the Sunnyside workings.
      It was like going thru a museum....I do remember that. Looking at old workings here and there....from the last 100 plus years. Fascinating....for me anyway. I don't know if some of those old stopes & raises went up into the Gold King workings....but they were in the right neighborhood to do that. Been a few years.... :)

    12. Thanks for that. Before your next comment I would ask you to do me a favor and look at the report by John F Able Jr.

      Go to page 4 which contains the sampling data from a 1992 Simon Hydro-Search study along the length of the American Tunnel. This is the study I use as my evidence. Figure 1a, is the inflow as measured at various points from 8,000' level back to the portal. The flow at the property line - Bulkhead #1 was 730 gpm. That flow level stays mainly constant until the fault zone at 3000'. it then increases by 580 gpm (all acid mine/fracture discharge). What is additionally important is that the flow CONTINUES to increase gradually by another roughly 1000 gpm by the time it reaches the portal with total flow of over 2200 gpm. So 66% of the tunnel flow, over 1300 gpm comes from the last 3000' at an elevation of around 10,600'. This zone has been described as being in a "moderately disturbed zone" with "fractured latite porphry". It's leaky.
      I'm a geophysicist, I understand hydrodynamics, fault systems , and flow patterns. The mines are not going to fill up and overflow catastrophically. There is no perfect bottom seal, but there is one at the top. Ground water is less dense than mine discharge. It floats on top. Gravity and groundwater will prevent it from going anywhere but down.

    13. I saved that report, and have read it....and need to more more than only makes sense, that there is going to be more leakage in a fault zone, or 'disturbed zone'....same thing....politically correct, semantics I suppose. I don't see how that is much of a factor in all this.

      It matters not where the water comes from, or what condition it is in....other than the content of dissolved oxygen, or if the water is already saturated, or partially saturated, with dissolved metals. The water filling up in the lower levels, only keeps the water coming up from above, the capability to drain.
      Past that.....
      What matters in this case, the water level. Again, it goes in from the surface, it comes out....somewhere. If the ground is 'full' at the 10,483 level, and if there's a way out, there's where it's going out. If it's not full, it will fill up the voids below that level, until the same happens.
      If water, clean or otherwise, goes thru the sulfides in the Gold King, it doesn't matter if it drains at the American at 10,617 FASL, or thru the Gold King portal at 11,463...however.... it will have become more acidic, and will contain more dissolved metals....and the amount, is dependent on the contact time, and the amount of oxygen present. No?

      The whole mountain range is basically leaky. That's how the minerals ended up there to begin with. Hydrothermal. It's variable, but trust me....the area is a big busted up bunch of rock. As a miner, you learn these things, or folks often will be standin' around the stone talkin' about what a good miner you were, and what a shame it was you got slabbed. Not the way a fella wants to go out.....

      I don't see the whole mountain filling up and overflowing catastrophically, although....the more the pressure, not knowing the seismic activity, and knowing the's not out of the realm.
      I do see the EPA doing something like that. Recent history proves it. They are not smart enough to learn...or maybe that wasn't the deal. (Dave Taylor)

      I agree, there is no perfect bottom seal. Again, history proves that. The American is leaking again. It will leak more, as the hydrostatic pressure increases. That's life in this kind of rock. Higher pressures and the bad rock, will make it worse as time goes by.
      I disagree, there is no perfect upper seal. Are you thinkin' cedar shakes or blue tarps on the range to keep the water out?

      I can't even spell me a couple of 'F's maybe, and I'll give 'er a shot.
      I do know a lot, from experience about water in mines, specifically...too much water in mines.

      My point is..... folks better take a look at any actions and corrections they do, and then the all too many variables of unintended consequences. Sure didn't happen a couple weeks ago. It may be that concrete bulkheads, one after another, can put any leakage of water, and acid drainage to pre-mining levels. That will not happen if some one like the EPA is in control. They don't want pre-mining levels, they want pure & pristine levels, that were never there.

  12. I added some more links that may be of interest - at the other site.

    This may also be of interest. It has a cross sectional view of the mines and tunnel. It also shows the bulkhead locations.


    1. Thanks for the links!
      The Bulkhead locations is something I have been searching for!


    2. Agian, excellent work, and finally a nice simple diagram to clearly show that the Tunnel does not communicate with either of the two mines. For some reason there is this pervasive need to tie varible discharge rates at the #7 and Red&Bonita with the plugging of the mines. The mine works represent such a miniscule part of the draining system, as a result, the mine reacts to it, rather than the other way around. Read the Hydro report from 1992. Water at Bulkhead #1 was running fresh.

      The report also goes into great detail about the layers of the geology of the mountain. other than the major faults, the type of rock the Americal tunnel is in, is not conducive to fracturing.

    3. And again, our opinions differ.

      Look at both maps. The Bonita Fault runs up thru the American, and thru the Gold King.
      That is route the gold, silver, and long list of other metals, mostly in sulfide form got to the Gold King to begin with.
      I trust you understand, the fault is not just one crack. It is a wide zone of crumbled up rock from tectonic shifting.

      I don't know if the American was ever connected to the Gold King by mining. It IS connected geologically thru the Bonita fault, and other slips & cracks around it. The ground thru that area was not pretty. It's not a matter of the ground being 'not conductive to fracturing'. The Bonita Fault IS, and has been fractured....for millions of years.

      Past the Gold King area, in the American, I remember the ground being a lot more consistent, and less fractured, until closer to the Sunnyside. Be good to talk to a miner or three that was there for a longer period of time than me. The Red & Bonita was discharging 5 GPM, and the Upper Gold King, 5 GPM, until after the bulkheads were completed. At last report, the Gold King was still discharging 600 GPM. It's no longer able to drain thru the American.

      Agree to disagree.

    4. "The Bonita Fault runs up thru the American, and thru the Gold King.
      That is route the gold, silver, and long list of other metals, mostly in sulfide form got to the Gold King to begin with. "

      Not the route at all. The mined layer (there is only one layer that contains the type of host to become mineralized and mined) is proximal to two different and separate fault lines. Some faults are extensional (open), some are compressonal (closed). It appears that the Bonita Fault is compressional and forms part of the graben collapse. Some mineralization of the Bonita fault is obviously present, but the reality is that there was likely very poor ore conversion here, relative to the more extensional system at the Sunnyside. In both mines, the only rock that contains commercial mineralization, is the single layer of the Burns formation. It is a volcanic flow with a lot of porphyry and amygdules. The layers below it are relatively massive. Any communication between the 2 mines, on two separate faults, would have to come from the Burns layer through fractures. Inside the caldera, the dominant fracture pattern is NE/SW. Outside and west to Gladstone, the fractures are concentric, like a large circular rock crack in your windshield. The two don't connect.

    5. The American Tunnel, is not a mine. It's an adit....a drift....
      It was driven under the Upper Gold King to access' the Sunnyside. I think it was originally driven to drain the Gold King. This would explain why the portal is designated as 'Gold King' on USGS maps.
      I'm not saying that the two ore bodies (Gold King & Sunnyside) were formed thru the same fault. Has nothing to do with the point here.
      The American passes through the Bonita fault.
      So does the Gold King.
      The ground in the Bonita fault, can be equated to a barrel of bricks, golf balls, & marbles, and not even close to a barrel of set-up concrete. It's porous. Big time. It leaks. A lot. This is typical, in all too many mines I have worked.
      Have you seen it? Been there?

      Whether there is enough fractured ground to connect the Gold King & Sunnyside is a separate issue. I think you are confused between the two.
      But.... no matter....if they keep on plugging things like the Terry etc, I believe Lake Emma will eventually fill back up again. Probably not a big deal..... It's a separate issue.

      One more time.....
      The American Tunnel and the Gold King both are intersected by the Bonita Fault. (Again, take The Sunnyside Mine out of the equation) And again, the American is connected to the Gold King thru the Bonita fault. Look at the maps. It was a drain for the Gold King. You can argue how much of a drain, but it was a drain.

      So....I still agree to disagree....


    6. K.Last point, specifically to the concept of the drain to the Gold King. I don't think there is any doubt that that is what they were going for. I'm sure they assumed they would be able to mine down to the tunnel. Only they would have ran out of ore, and they would have to dig well over 700' deep to connect the two.

      Here is as much as I can give you to support your claim that the Gold King communicates with the American.

      Page 42 - second last on the Hydro-Search shows a slightly different graph of the water inflow along the American Tunnel. I had been asking what the heck the single offshoot was under the Gold King. My assumption now is that it is called a "runaround" or "the runaround". Anyway, the graph clearly shows that there is a 200 GPM increase in flow at the runaround. So that was 200 GPM of fresh water. Assuming that 100% of that 200 was coming directly from the Gold King - 700 plus feet above, and you plugged that, that you would have an increase of 200 that would drain to the #7. So I got you 200, you need to look for how to get the rest.

      I assume that the water flow being fresh at the runaround (as "fresh" as the other 700 GPM flowing from the Sunnyside) indicates that 0% of the flow is connected to the Gold King. All that considering that the Gold King was 69 years abandoned, one would assume that you would have seen indications of low PH influx.

      The real culprit in all of this is the Burns formation itself. It is a semi horizontal layer that has undergone whole scale chemical alteration over multiple time periods. I say semi-horizontal because it was deposited as a flow, but it has subsequently been uplifted, collapsed , and faulted.
      The ore layers appear to be tilted (dipping) from the NE to the SW generally for both the Sunnyside and the Gold King/ Red&Bonita mines. It's literally the only permeable layer on the Bonita Peak.
      That permeable layer is where all the seeps are coming from.

      So, in my opinion, trying to plug the #7 was the dumbest idea. It's like taking a butter knife to a gunfight. A good portion of the entrance is in a shear zone, the works themselves also directly in the extremely permeable Burns. It becomes a collector of increased groundwater, once filled, it will turn to acid discharge and leak out down to Cement Creek. You should never attempt to plug something like that. Let it flow. After a while it should flow fresher and cleaner. Still probably greater than a PH of 5.5, but without the heavy minerals. That's the key. If you want to clean up the water below Gladstone (remember that the South Cement creek has a PH of 5.5 from seeps where NO mining had taken place) I would strongly advocate for a water treatment facility. I would also advocate to keep the American tunnel sealed, and all the mines north be left open and fully draining.

      Thank you all for the great access to the documentation surrounding this area, this event, and the history behind it. I am sure it will make for a great After School Special someday. I think the residents of Silverton should hold onto their right to self determination, and tell the EPA to shove it.


    7. Was EPA actually trying to plug Gold King's level 7 adit? May 2015:

      "Red and Bonita Mine Bulkhead Construction

      … The action involves installing an engineered, reinforced bulkhead (i.e. massive plug) to control the discharge of contaminated water coming out of the mine adit (i.e. tunnel) and flowing into Cement Creek, a tributary ofthe Animas River.

      Along with this work, EPA also plans to remove the blockage and reconstruct the portal at the Gold King Mine in order to best observe possible changes in discharge caused by the installation of Red and Bonita Mine bulkhead. The Gold King Mine is the closest mine to the Red and Bonita Mine…"

      Observe? How? Poke holes through the floor of the thing and look down into the Red & Bonita?

    8. "Observe? How? Poke holes through the floor of the thing and look down into the Red & Bonita?"

      Not difficult to do, and pretty common. Diamond drill holes are surveyed that way. Wells are drilled on the downhill side of tails dams & piles, to test water. A typical requirement the last 30+ years....


    9. Would there not be an option to drill such observation holes outside on the tailings pile, rather than inside in what would have to be confined and awkward spaces?

    10. What they should have done, instead of digging out the muckpile covering the portal, is drill into the main adit from the surface, above, and thru better ground, rather than the loose stuff, or thru the dump. Much like drilling an oil or water well, if you are unfamiliar.

      If they had done that, they could have measured, sampled, looked, and then pumped the water out through the hole, to be treated, before making their (questionably ill conceived) plan to 'permanently' plug the portal.

      If they found the water level was still higher than the collar of the hole, when they drilled into the drift, they could have shut it off right then and there, or, they could have diverted it to directed it into containment ponds and treatment area. Either way, they should have been able to stop the flow.

      They had no plan, or at best, an extremely poor plan. A good plan includes several contingencies. You think of all the 'what ifs', and prepare accordingly.

      There only alternate plan was to run like rabbits and get out of the way.


    11. Brilliant!!!

  13. "I think the residents of Silverton should hold onto their right to self determination, and tell the EPA to shove it."


    Now that.....I absolutely and positively agree with!
    Allowing the EPA to turn the area into a super-fund site, is like giving a drunk in the saloon nine-thousand-three-hundred and forty-seven blank checks.

    The EPA should be forced to play by the same rules that mines must play with MSHA.....


  14. From the EPA....redacted???? Go figure.....

    1. Page 2 at EPA's Internal Review notes an "Attachment G: Photo log from 2014 and 2015 Removal Investigation activities". But the online link has no attachments. I haven't yet heard elsewhere if this review had that attachment when sent to reporters or investigating committees.

      Meanwhile, its item 7 on page 9 sez: "In reviewing the pertinent documents provided, interviews conducted, visiting the site and evaluating the photo logs, the Team concludes that the Adit blowout was likely inevitable." Item 6 above it mentions how the guys simply skipped doing any drilling into the top of the adit because "effort necessary to mobilize a drill rig and create a drill pad ... would require significant resources and add additional time to the implementation schedule and may not be successful in ascertaining water levels or pressure…"

      So. Be warned of potential water buildup, write a work plan to deal with impounded water ( ), dig straight into the adit, and a blowout is inevitable.

    2. Here's what they have tuned loose:

      Main Page:

      Attachment they have published: (from the first link)

    3. They left the Suburban, the only vehicle worthy of a personnel carrier in an emergency, in the middle of the North Cement, after plopping 2 bails of hay into the creek.It took the full brunt of the discharge, and was likely a write-off.
      I wished the attachments were available, It would be very easy to see that the discharge rates over time, have been more, and have been less. Not long ago is was less than 150 GPM, now it is at 600. The variability of discharge CONCLUSIVELY points to ground water as being the sole culprit. The report's conclusions on that are all out to lunch.

    4. This is what happens when you get a bunch of EPA people running things. In a word....clueless.

      Simple rules with mine operators....if you don't have the resources, or the time, to do a job safely and don't do it. Period. If you may be spending some time in the Iron Bar Hotel, especially if your men get hurt. For good reason.

      I've worked at mines where we walked away from different headings etc, because they were flat out too dangerous to work. If you can't stay caught up on the bad's over.
      I have also been around headings, which started making water, and due to the potential of flood, we stopped work. Choices are; to wait & monitor to see if the water flow changes, drill & pump grout to slow the water flow, more pumps or drains etc, or, just give up on that heading.

      Not having the resources, and time, to do the job right? Wouldn't fly if a mine operator said that. and had a wreck like this one, I can assure you. It shouldn't fly for the EPA either.


    5. So, as of today, despite EPA saying "releasing a contractor's Draft Technical Memo of the August 5 incident, including photographs, an EPA On Scene Coordinator's description of the events depicted in the photographs" and with that OSC's email description ( ) clearly describing what was seen in EPA's deleted online photo collection, the "Attachment G: Photo log from 2014 and 2015 Removal Investigation activities" is still nowhere to be seen? Or have I missed it somewhere in the document releases?

    6. Not sure what pics you are actually after. Climb around on that EPA site & see.... not sure.

      I am more interested in the tech data.....

    7. The ones EPA had on its own web page from about 8/5 or 8/6 until all 191 of them vanished on 8/16, which I had partially archived on 8/12 which now are re-seen today as the Weston Solutions version at the Denver Post (although I still can't spot this new collection version in EPA's newly released docs):

    8. Aha, my bad, I had not made enough mousewheel rotations down into the "Draft Technical Memorandum [Weston Solutions to EPA]" PDF file. Those are the photos EPA deleted 8/16.