Article courtesy of azcentral | Shared as educational material| October 14, 2014 |
Patagonia residents were happy for rain last month, until they noticed orange sludge, bright red trickles and liquid the color of iced tea heading toward their waterways.
Those September storms brought leaks from inactive mines in the mountains, potential danger to wildlife in Santa Cruz County and citations from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.
On Friday, the agency cited five violations at the Trench Camp Mine site near Patagonia in a letter sent to the multistate trust in charge of the site. Another site, the abandoned Lead Queen Mine, is on land owned by the U.S. Forest Service.
Testing for contamination near the two sites is still underway, according to Floyd Gray, a U.S. Geological Survey research geologist. He said the “orange sludge” contains aluminum, iron, silicon, sulfur and manganese, though exact levels may not be known for weeks.
“That’s why everybody freaked,” Gray said. “We’ve never seen it like that anywhere in the mountain.”
The ADEQ notice says the agency has no knowledge that the managers of the Trench Camp Mine have done anything to fix the problem. The violation notice starts the timetable for corrective action to be taken before potential compliance orders or litigation.
Representatives from the U.S. Forest Service did not respond Tuesday to requests for comment. Mike Dieckhaus, who is named with the environmental engineering and consulting firm Tetra Tech as the site operator in the violation notice, also did not respond. The mines are outside Patagonia, which is about 20miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Remediation on the Trench Camp Mine site began in the 1990s, according to the report, and includes storm-water-diversion ditches, revegetation and sediment traps. The Lead Queen Mine has never been remediated.
Patagonia residents first noticed red, orange and “iced-tea-colored” water draining in the mountains after heavy rain in late September, said Wendy Russell, coordinator for the Patagonia Area Resource Alliance.
Employees from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Geological Survey inspected and surveyed the two areas at the end of last month.
An Oct.7 ADEQ report found reddish-brown water leaking from the Trench Camp Mine into the Alum Gulch Creek and noted water with acidity above normal. The pH levels were recorded between 1 and 3, compared with the minimum standard of 6.5 for discharge.
Violations at the Trench Camp Mine stem from the lack of control of stormwater discharge as well as a failure to document the discharge within 72 hours and remediate it within 14 days.
The site has been managed by a multistate trust since a 2009 bankruptcy settlement with its former owner, Asarco. That settlement provided Arizona with about $3million to clean the Trench Camp Mine site and the nearby Salero Mine site.
The report said Dieckhaus had visited the site after the leak but could not take action without speaking to the multistate trust.
Water quality fluctuates in the Patagonia Mountains based on its natural composition and mining history, said Gray, who’s worked there since 1997.
“A lot of times (Harshaw Creek) looks like turbid milk,” Gray said. “But this was so heavy (with metals), it dropped out to the bottom.”
In the short term, the service will use filtering devices to stop the spread, Gray said. He added that larger and more costly remediation plans are in the works.
The leaks point to a lack of accountability for the 130 inactive mines in the Patagonia Mountains, Russell said.
“Nobody has control over historic mines,” she said.