The water treatment plant at the former Chevron Questa Mine is up and running successfully. It began operations last year on July 4 and treats groundwater and stormwater, as well as dewatering the …
The water treatment plant at the former Chevron Questa Mine is up and running successfully. It began operations last year on July 4 and treats groundwater and stormwater, as well as dewatering the closed underground mine. The water quality of the effluent from the plant discharges into the Red River at levels that meet or exceed regulatory standards and typically has a better quality than the current water quality of the river.
Tommy Lyles, spokesperson at the Chevron Questa Mine site explains, “By pumping and dewatering the mine we are keeping the level of the water in the mine lower than the Red River or the highway to make sure that none of the water from the closed mine reaches the river without being treated. The water that reaches the river is all good clean water.”
Future of the water treatment plant
Although the cleanup plan for the mine site will go on for another 20 to 30 years, the water treatment plant will always be in place, ensuring that the water that is discharged meets or exceeds regulatory standards. Golder Associates, the company hired to manage the plant, was selected due to its long expertise in water treatment.
Lyles says, “They are a global organization, but have a commitment to the local employees. The plant currently employs 19 people and all but one resides within the Enchanted Circle with the largest number from Questa. They’ve been trained to perform the work required to safely operate the plant. Golder has done a great job creating local employment, something the citizens of Questa have wanted to see happen. They are going to be a long-term positive presence in the community.”
Victor Wirick, Golder’s senior project engineer for operations and maintenance at the water treatment plant, explains that Chevron is concerned about the ripple effect in the economy caused by the closing of the mine and asked that Golder recruit from the former mine employees. He adds, “Over half of our current employees worked for Chevron Mining or one of (its) contractors. I’ve been impressed at how these employees have learned about the operations of a highly sophisticated treatment plant and came together as a cohesive team to run the plant safely in only a matter of months. We are really happy with the talent in the local pool of employees.”
Golder took over the water treatment plant as it was completed to get it ready to discharge clean water. The water is tested in a number of places before it is discharged into the Red River at a rate of about 800 gallons a minute, which equals nearly one million gallons per day.
Six collection stations gather groundwater at the site. Three dewatering pumps are about 1,200 feet deep pull water from the closed underground mine, which has collected water since the mine’s closure in 2014.
Three shallow wells collect water at the base of the rock piles that surround the mine. The water moves through a series of treatment processes, followed by membrane filtration to capture metals and other pollutants.
In almost a year of operations, the plant has an excellent safety record. “We are thankful to Chevron for allowing us to be part of this project that ensures good clean water goes into the river,” says Wirick.
Another step in cleanup
The water treatment plant follows the successful cleanup of Eagle Rock Lake that was completed in 2015 as part of the requirements of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to remediate the environmental impacts in and near the former molybdenum mine. Chevron worked with the National Forest Service, New Mexico Game and Fish and the Village of Questa to clean up the three- acre lake and provide trails, bridges and new fish habitat at the lake. Lyles says “Eagle Rock Lake was the first big project to help water quality. The water treatment plant is a much larger and more important step in ensuring the quality of the water. It will ensure that the water in the river and lake stays clean and useable into the long term future.”
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