PitWatch Issue Volume 3, Number 2
Previous issues of PITWATCH have been devoted almost exclusively to the Berkeley Pit and surrounding “East Camp” underground wells and mine workings. Another area of the underground water system called West Camp also deserves our attention.
The West Camp lies southwest of the Berkeley Pit/East Camp drainage and includes the Travona, Emma, and Ophir mine workings. Like in the East Camp, the groundwater in this area has been closely monitored since 1982 to make sure the water does not rise above a certain level—in this case 5,435 feet. Since November 1989, pumping operations have kept the water below this level.
In the late 1950s, the West Camp mine workings were sealed off from the rest of the shafts and drifts on the Butte Hill by a series of barriers, or bulkheads—some made of wood, some cement. Three main cement bulkheads block the connections between the Emma and Original mines at the 1,600-foot level and the Emma and Colorado mines at the 1,400- and 1,000-foot levels.
Anaconda Company crews installed the bulkheads for two main reasons: 1) they were finished mining in the West Camp and 2) they wanted to increase the efficiency of continued operations in the other mines and the Berkeley Pit. The bulkheads allowed them to eventually reduce both the volume of groundwater pumped and the area underground that required fresh air. However, even after the bulkheads were installed, they continued to pump water out of the Emma shaft until 1965.
Over the years, leakage has occurred through the bulkheads, but according to monitoring data, it appears that the West Camp water system remains mostly independent. The groundwater levels in its shafts are several hundred feet higher than those in the other mine workings, indicating that the bulkheads still separate the two areas.
After studying the West Camp in the late 1980s, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ruled that the water in the Travona shaft could rise to an elevation of 5,435 feet without threatening human health or the environment. However, if the water were to rise above this level, EPA believes it could eventually flow untreated into Silver Bow Creek, and ARCO would face daily fines starting at $5,000 and increasing to $10,000 after 10 days.
To ensure that the West Camp water stays below 5,435, groundwater is pumped from the Travona shaft into a county sewer line and on to the Metro Sewer plant. ARCO pays Butte-Silver Bow about $30,000 a month to treat this water, depending on the volume received. Treatment mainly involves reducing the water’s arsenic content.
Recently, ARCO installed a larger main pump south of the Travona near Centennial Avenue. It can handle 100 more gallons per minute than the current pump (330 compared to 230), and it should go on line sometime this fall. The Travona pump will then become the back-up, used only when needed.
The old pump is due for some downtime, as it has been working at near full capacity for more than a year to keep up with rising water. For example, in September 1997, the Travona water hit 5,432 feet—just 3 feet below the critical mark. The current level, last measured on September 30, is 5,422 feet.