by Andy Bourelle
STATELINE – Federal officials have yet to hear any objections to listing the highly polluted Leviathan Mine on the Superfund National Priorities List and likely will propose the listing within three weeks.
“We are moving along. However, the proposals, with the final signatures, are running a little slow this quarter,” said Kevin Mayer, Superfund project manager for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “It probably won’t happen until the second, maybe third, week of October.”
Agency officials have asked the state of California, whose Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board owns the abandoned mine, to comment on the proposal, raising concerns and expressing objections if there are any. The state hasn’t done that yet.
“I know the state of California wants this situation dealt with. That’s not the question,” Mayer said. “It’s just one of autonomy and inter-jurisdictional issues that’s holding up the state’s unqualified support.”
The Leviathan Mine, located 25 miles south of Gardnerville, is an inactive sulfur mine now contaminating a nearby creek with acid mine drainage – acidic water containing dissolved toxic metals such as iron, copper, aluminum, nickel and arsenic.
The mine was first worked in 1863 for copper sulfate to process silver in Virginia City. It closed 37 years ago. Runoff from the mine flows into Leviathan Creek, which ends up in the Carson River.
A new system is being used to reduce the amount of acid from the runoff before it goes into the creek.
“Things are going really well in terms of the water treatment,” said Harold Singer, executive director of Lahontan. “We expect to have more than 5 million gallons treated this year. I won’t say it’s 100 percent, but I would say there is a very good chance there won’t be any overflow this year. It kind of depends on the weather and how much precipitation we get.”
While federal officials support the effort, they say there are other problems and the stream will still be contaminated, a fact Lahontan agrees with.
Officials think the Superfund status will help create more of a long-term cleanup approach.
Nevada has indicated it won’t object to the listing, Mayer said, and the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California has supported it.
“The contaminants are discharged into a stream that eventually flows into the Carson River, that goes through Douglas County,” said Don Miner, county commissioner. “It’s used for irrigation for crops, and there’s the potential for contamination of groundwater. All our drinking water comes from groundwater.”
Douglas commissioners had hoped to take a tour of the mine and see Lahontan’s work before deciding whether to support the proposal. That has yet to be arranged.