San Juan Ridge Taxpayers Association: Mine contaminated school’s water
December 18, 2012
In Other Voices of Dec. 5, Tim Callaway, CEO of the former and proposed San Juan Ridge Mine, re-wrote the history of the school well the mine polluted. In his piece, Mr. Callaway introduced an alternate and unsupported set of facts.
I want to set the record straight and to emphasize that our county planning department must find the facts, rather than relying on an applicant who has everything to gain by providing misleading information.
The San Juan Ridge community is not anti-mining, and worked with Mr. Callaway in 1993 to develop the Remedial Water Supply Plan to protect water while allowing the Siskon mine to open.
When the mine dewatered 12 wells and contaminated the school well, Grizzly Hill School continued to be a good neighbor, never litigating over contamination.
Fast forward to the present day. The well is still contaminated; Mr. Callaway submits an application to re-open, stating the mine will cause not a single significant impact to the environment or people.
His opinion piece utilizes the same greenwashing technique: ignoring and borrowing facts so that contamination of the well appears unrelated to past mining.
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In fact, Grizzly Hill School's well provided water that met state standards and tasted good with little or no filtration throughout its history — until the mine. Mr. Callaway's piece confuses the reader. Mistakenly stating that Grizzly Hill School was built in 1979, he then cites statistics for a well that was never used by our school.
Scheduled to open in December 1984, the school's opening was delayed until 1985 because the first well that was drilled had problems.
A second well was drilled in 1985 that provided sufficient good water at 200 feet to serve all of the school's water needs for ten years.
In late September of 1995, the mine tunnel hit a water bearing fracture. Water was drained from the school's well and 10 other neighboring wells. That well has never fully recovered.
A new 450 foot well was drilled in 1995 by Siskon. It did not meet drinking water standards. Siskon paid for deliveries of water trucked to the school, which eventually became bottled water for drinking while attempts were made to fix the well water. A new filtration system paid for by Siskon was not effective in reaching drinking water standards.
The truth of the matter is that the source of endless struggles to meet drinking water standards is not a well drilled by the school, but a poor-quality mitigation well constructed by the mining company. Air entering the drained aquifer oxidized minerals in the sub-soils. By 1997, when the mine stopped pumping water, this well was severely contaminated.
Provided (see accompanying table) is a comparison of the well from which our children drank before contamination to the water quality following mine operation. Zinc was also tested at the kitchen sink, revealing a staggering 20,100 ppb due to well pH decreasing from a mild 7.3 pH to an acidic 5.8 pH. The acid was eating up galvanized pipes in the school.
Even when filtered, the water could not meet drinking water standards. Bond funds ran out in 2002. With the school adding equipment to the filtration-treatment plant, and $10,000/year for a licensed water specialist to operate the system, the well finally met state standards in 2008 and went off trucked or bottled water for the first time since late 1995.
The San Juan Ridge Mine damaged our most precious resource: water. It did so in the heart of our community: our school. Twisting the facts to diminish that effect in the eyes of the public and decision makers is an inappropriate response. The first step to solving a problem is to recognize it. That is the task now before the Nevada County Planning Department.
Mr. Callaway did not intend to harm our water; but his effort to hide the harm his mine caused removes any faith that allowing him a second chance might solve the problem.
Kurt Lorenz is vice president of the San Juan Ridge Taxpayers Association, former Nevada County Water Review Team member for the Siskon Mine, former Nevada County planning commissioner, and former Twin Ridges Elementary School board member.