Latest News – November 29

Canterbury Tunnel Comes Online for Parkville Water


By Kathy Bedell.  ©

Earlier this month, Parkville Water District marked a monumental success for water supply in Lake County. After years of research and planning, Leadville’s municipal water district regained a significant water source by developing an alternative method of accessing the water in the Canterbury Tunnel. This project has added another million gallons of water to the system!

Leadville’s primary water source – Big Evans Reservoir – will get some help supplying Parkville Water District customers with the regained water from the Canterbury Tunnel. Photo: Parkville Water District.

Located north of town above Highway 91, the re-opened water passage means that Parkville will no longer have to “barely meet the water needs” during the winter months or peak summer season. It also means that Parkville has regained a valuable WARM water source for its system, whose biggest challenges are freezing pipes. A project years in the making, has finally “come online.”

But before discussing the present-day success, the story of the Canterbury Tunnel actually starts years ago – and like most in this county –  it starts with mining.

The Canterbury Tunnel

John Cortellini at the portal of the Canterbury Tunnel watching the un-watering operations (circa1922). Photo: Parkville Water District.

The Canterbury Tunnel was created as a community project in 1922, spearheaded by Mine Superintendent John Cortellini who later became  Mayor of Leadville. His concept was to build a sizeable tunnel to assist in de-watering the numerous mines that honeycombed Leadville’s east side.

Cortellini understood that one of the challenges with underground mining, is underground water. The Canterbury Tunnel would allow mining companies the opportunity to get rid of the water that stood in the way of extracting valuable ore from the bedrock. The original plans intended to drive the tunnel 20,000 feet, all the way up into Evans Gulch.

The dominant red line that stretches into Evans Gulch marks the original plan for the Canterbury Tunnel. Eventually, the project was abandoned at only 4,000 feet when crews building the passageway encountered massive amounts of water, making conditions impossible to drive the tunnel any further. Photo: Parkville Water District

The project was bankrolled by Cortellini selling shares in Leadville to help pay for the cost of driving the tunnel. The plan was to intersect numerous mines underground going back towards Evans Gulch and that each company along the way would pay them so much per ton of ore, to de-water their mines.

When they first broke into the water-bearing ground they got a steady flow of 15,000 gallons per minute, eventually dropping down to 1,200 gallons per minute, forcing workers to work in hip-deep water, according to Parkville Water District’s General Manager Greg Teter. They eventually hit so much water that it became too expensive, too difficult and too dangerous to continue driving the tunnel. They eventually gave up after 4,000 feet.

VIDEO – The Canterbury Tunnel

The tunnel was abandoned and sat dormant for many years, but in the 1960s, the Leadville Water Company (Parkville’s predecessor) took notice of the water that was coming out of the portal.  It was beautiful, clean water and perhaps more importantly, it was warm water.

That’s one of the best attributes of the Canterbury water: it’s temperature is over 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Why is it so warm? Could Lake County have some hot springs nearby that nobody knows about? 

“It’s because the water is over 300 years old,” answers Teter. It’s temperature is warm because it’s been in the earth for a long, long time.

Parkville Water District’s General Manager Greg Teter.

Leadville’s primary water source has always been surface water that comes into Big Evans Reservoir off Evans Creek from snow melt in Evans Gulch (think east – Parkville gets most of it’s water from the mountains to the east of town). And as you can imagine that water is COLD!

So a water district with with freezing line issues, would welcome bringing warm water into its distribution system. So in 1962, the water company paid for a 12 inch transmission line into town and built a pump station at the original Canterbury portal. The water source was then used for 60 years, supplementing the surface water in Big Evans Reservoir.

In the early 1990s, the Canterbury Tunnel began to show signs of distress. Not only were surface cave-ins apparent from a series of cone-shaped depressions appearing along the hillside above the portal, but a slower, lower flow from the portal signaled something deeper. This second symptom indicated internal cave-ins from old timber trusses used in mining operation. The theory was confirmed by high turbidity levels, reported from the monitoring system used in washing sediments out of the water source before it was fed into the Parkville distribution system. Eventually the decomposing timbers from the 1922 build, along with sediment from the cave-ins, blocked the water flow to the point that by 2003 the source was not used in the municipal system at all.  

“When we lost that source, it put us short on water supply in the middle of winter,” said Teter.  “We have struggled every year to not run out of water in late winter,” explains Teter.

Now for most readers that statement can seem a bit off. Isn’t it summertime when water systems are challenged? For most towns, yes, but things work differently up here.

In this video Greg Teter takes readers on a tour of Leadville’s primary water tributary – Evans Creek –  and explains why winter is more critical than summer when it comes to providing water to the residents of the highest city in North America – Leadville.

Video – Evans Creek – Leadville’s Water Source

“We basically lost a primary water source (with Canterbury being offline),” explains Teter. “Which is a huge deal for any water system. So the whole idea of this project is to regain what was lost in terms of water source.”

Fortunately, Parkville’s General Manager Greg Teter was determined NOT to give up on the Canterbury. Others might have been deterred by the web of variables involved in developing an alternative method of accessing the water in the Canterbury Tunnel, but that’s not Teter’s leadership style.

PART TWO – Don’t miss tomorrow’s exciting conclusion!

How Parkville regained the Canterbury Tunnel water and what that means to Lake County’s water supply. 

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