MARKLEEVILLE, Calif. - A new cleanup at a toxic Sierra mine is done for the season, and Environmental Protection Agency officials say they're encouraged by the progress.
EPA Project Manager Kevin Mayer said contractors treated five ponds that stored up to 16 million gallons of acidic waste at the Leviathan Mine near Markleeville.
The abandoned sulfur mine was declared a federal Superfund site earlier this year - a status reserved for the most polluted places in the nation.
After the ponds were treated with lime to make toxic metals settle out, the water was safely discharged into Leviathan Creek, a tributary of the East Fork Carson River.
Mayer said the water treatment should eliminate any threat of toxic overflows from the ponds next spring into Leviathan and Bryant creeks.
''The news is pretty fabulous,'' he said, adding the effort was a stopgap measure to address polluted runoff while the EPA forges ahead on a long-term cleanup plan.
State and federal agencies have spent more than $7 million since 1982 trying to stop acid drainage that has killed off aquatic life in the nearby creeks.
Leaders from Douglas County, Nev., and other downstream water users have worried for years over the long-term impacts of the rust-colored stew of contaminants.
In July, contractors began a second season of treating runoff in the mine's ponds. Toxic overflows from the ponds plagued the site in 1999 and 1998.
Mayer said a treatment system being tested by University of Nevada, Reno researchers worked surprisingly well, raising new hope for future cleanup efforts.
UNR scientist Glenn Miller has been using bacteria mixed with ethanol and methanol to treat runoff, reducing acidity and precipitating metals out of solution.
''It's working quite well.'' Miller told the Reno Gazette-Journal. ''I'm very enthusiastic about the prospects.''
For years officials despaired over making much difference at the mine. The cleanup will take decades and cost millions, but progress this year offers long-term hope, they said.
''Everyone's feeling pretty good about Leviathan Mine as a whole now,'' Miller said. ''There's a good chance this is going to be turned around.''
The mine produced copper sulfate from 1863 to 1872, then was reopened for a six-year period to produce sulfur beginning in 1936. Open-pit mining was used to extract sulfur until the mine was finally shut down in 1962.