SILVERTON A potential Superfund project in this old mountain mining town to reduce the amount of toxic metals flowing into the Animas River would focus on only the most glaring examples four mines that are spewing 700 gallons a minute into an Animas tributary.
Environmental Protection Agency officials are scheduled to attend a public meeting of the Animas River Stakeholders Group on Thursday to discuss possible remedies for the situation in the Gladstone area.
Meanwhile, the Mountain Studies Institute is testing an experimental substance called biochar at several other sites to see if it can help anchor vegetation on naked piles of mine waste.
There are hundreds of such sites in the San Juan Mountains near here, the legacy of a rich mining history, said Chris Peltz, research coordinator at Mountain Studies Institute.
The stakeholders group and the Bureau of Land Management also manage ongoing projects to improve water quality and stabilize deposits of mine waste.
Draining mines produce toxic waste everywhere, but the quantity pouring from four mines in the Gladstone area is of greatest concern.
The Red and Bonita, American Tunnel, Mogul and Gold King mines are releasing 700 gallons a minute of polluted water into Cement Creek, a tributary to the Animas River.
The effect of toxic metals is felt as far downstream as Bakers Bridge where the number of microinvertebrates has dropped significantly.
The stakeholder group formed in 1994 to fend off a possible Superfund designation that would have covered most of San Juan County.
The possibility has resurfaced in the last year because of a worsening in the amount of contaminants being leaked.
Officials, however, have said the decision to assign the area a Superfund designation would be made with broad involvement, including input from residents.
Meanwhile, the experiments with biochar have the objective of restoring a functioning ecosystem at the sites.
Were using a plant-based method to stabilize soil, Peltz said, showing visitors three sites where he is testing biochar.
Biochar is produced by heating woody materials in a furnace to leave only carbon chips.
With the help of college interns, Peltz is testing various mixes of biochar and native grass seeds as a ground cover on the Bonner and Joe John mines.
Biochar increases soil moisture and raises the pH of the soil, Peltz said. It also provides habitat for soil microorganisms that create a healthy soil profile.