Location of the Schwartwalder uranium mine. View as a larger map.
Once one of the nation’s largest underground uranium mines, the Schwartzwalder Mine is located in Jefferson County northwest of Denver, Colorado.
Colorado Cotter Corporation acquired the Schwartzwalder Mine in 1965 and was operational until 2000. The uranium deposit was discovered in the 1940s and was developed as a multi-level, hard rock underground uranium mine.
As a result of the drop in uranium prices in the past decade, Cotter Corporation shut down the Schwartzwalder Mine and started reclamation.
The Schwartzwalder Mine has faced many environmental issues since its closure. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Cotter Corporation have yet to settle on a plan for cleanup.
Today, groundwater near the Schwartzwalder Mine contains uranium levels that are 1,000 times higher than human health standards.
Since April 2010, Cotter has faced numerous state orders to pump and treat the toxic water that is filling the mine and allegedly contaminating nearby reservoirs. Ralston Creek, which flows into Denver Water’s Ralston Reservoir, contains uranium levels 310 ppb.
In August 2010, Cotter agreed to remove tainted water from its mine, but had chosen to pump and clean only surface ponds and not the water inside of the mineshafts.
Despite high uranium concentrations in nearby water resources, Cotter Corporation defied state orders to clean up the site and refused to pay state fines ($55,000) for failing to do so. Cotter Corporation claims that the mine water is not contaminating Ralston Creek, therefore has no obligation to pump and treat this water immediately.
The Schwartzwalder Mine has been in environmental non-compliance for 12 of the past 12 quarters. Concentration violations include uranium, boron, chromium, copper, cyanide, fluoride, zinc, thallium, radium 226, and radium 226 as well as several other environmental violations.
In October 2010, Cotter Corporation filed a lawsuit against Colorado’s Mined Lands and Reclamation Board for abusing its discretion when it ordered Cotter to pump out and treat uranium-tainted water. At issue is whether state regulators had enough evidence to order the cleanup and impose large fines against Cotter Corporation.
As the legal battle continues between state departments and Cotter Corporation, water in the mining shaft still poses as a threat to water resources.
The case at the Schwartzwalder mine has many environmental groups up in arms. “The mess at Schwartzwalder shows that Colorado isn’t ready for a new uranium boom,” spokesman Matt Garrington said. “We have abandoned and inactive uranium mines littered across the state that haven’t been cleanup up and are still causing environmental problems.”