AURORA | Aurora water officials say they’ve finalized a $34 million deal for 1,411 acre feet of water in a defunct old gold mine in Park County, near Leadville.
“Looking for new water supplies in the arid west requires innovative thinking,” Marshall Brown, Director for Aurora Water, said in a statement about the acquisition. “This is a supply that historically has not been tapped by water providers, but the easier supplies are gone.”
Aurora City Council members approved the purchase at the beginning of the year.
The plan to extract the water from the mine is unique and complicated, but city water officials say will be well worth the work when it’s all said and done. The closed mine holds 100,000 acre-feet of water and about 5,300 acre-feet of that can be drawn out each year, according to water officials.
The water comes via a basin fed by snowmelt on London Mountain, but a geologic fault that holds the water prevents it from escaping into Mosquito Creek.
Discussions about accessing the water hasn’t come without some questions about whether the water will be safe, however.
From 1874 until the 1940s, the London Mine was one of the top-producing gold mines in the state. It also produced lead, silver and zinc. In 1991 the mine eventually closed, but a fault within the mountain created a natural reservoir, one that fills with snowmelt.
In the nearly three decades since the mine has been closed, the state health department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have had their eye on the mine and its previous owners. In 2009, 2011 and 2013 CDPHE cited the mine for violating the discharge permit. A treatment plan for the mine was created, but it failed. And in 2016 CDPHE slapped the owner previous to MineWater with a $1.1 million fine.
Water officials and MineWater have studied the water, and will continue to do so, to make sure it’s a safe source.
MineWater, which has completely reworked the plumbing of the mine, will still continue its operations and hold all mine permits. Aurora water is only purchasing the water rights.