Latest News – November 4

Part Two: The Canterbury Tunnel

Water, Water Everywhere in Leadville Today

By Kathy Bedell  © Leadville Today

Note: This series was originally published in the Spring 2017. 

Once the run-off season starts in the high country – whether it’s early, late or right on time – you can bet conversations turn to water: how much of it there is, where it’s headed, and whose got the right to use it.

NewBypass Big Evans Parkville Water

Parkville Water District General Manager Greg Teter stands atop the new bypass system, which replaced the century-old wooden flume (inset picture) at Big Evans Reservoir. Stay tuned for Part Three of the Water, Water Everywhere series for the incredible story of this historic upgrade to Leadville’s primary water source. Photo: Leadville Today/Kathy Bedell

But in an old west mining town like Leadville, in order to see where things are going, it’s wise to take a look at where they’ve been. So in Part Two of the Water, Water Everwhere series, readers will find an overview of one of Parkville Water District’s most significant upgrades of the 21st century; it’s a project that took root in a 20th century engineering marvel. Here’s the story of The Canterbury Tunnel.

The Canterbury Tunnel

Located north of Leadville above Highway 91, the Canterbury Tunnel’s story actually starts years ago – and like most in this area – it starts with mining.

Parkville Canterbury Tunnel_ Cortellini

John Cortellini (standing to the left) 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  the 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 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, but perhaps more importantly, it was warm water.

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

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

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 its water from the Mosquito Mountain Range, to the east of town). And as you can imagine, that water is COLD!

Therefore a water district with freezing pipe 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 from 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 operations.

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

In this 2012 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 from 2003 – 13),” explains Teter. “Which is a huge deal for any water system. So the whole idea of the Canterbury Tunnel project was 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 historic tunnel. Fortunately Teter’s leadership style is made from the same cloth as the many native Leadvillites who have brought things from underground to the surface for a common good.

The challenges involved in regaining this valuable water source were sizeable. But the water district was committed to the end goal: to recapture that water and to utilize its warm temperature to help reduce freezing issues throughout the distribution system.

The original Canterbury Tunnel was 7-feet tall and 5-feet wide, shored up by old mining timbers which had broken down and log jammed at numerous places which could not be determined from the surface. And it’s not easily accessible, surrounded by forests and a patchwork of private property owners.

But in addition to the geographic considerations, were the financial ones. What’s the price for bringing a drilling company out into the middle of a forest, to bore holes into the earth, looking to intersect with a tunnel that no one knows the path of?

Fortunately in 2012, the Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) thought it was a question worth answering and provided the first $500,000 via the Mineral Impact Fund to investigate the situation. Added to that was another $200,000 that came from the Asarco settlement for natural resources damages lawsuit. Readers may remember back in 2008 when Asarco and Newmont Mining agreed to pay federal and state agencies $38.9 million to help remediate the California Gulch Superfund site in and around Leadville. That $200,000 came from those funds, assisting in getting the Canterbury project through the preliminary engineering and legal issues, including easements.

Parkville_Historic old water pipe

Did you know that Leadville’s water system is the OLDEST in the state? Back in Leadville’s early “boom” days the pipes were soldered with silver, not metal! There was more silver than metal available back then. Photo: Parkville Water District.

With the initial funding secured, an old lumber road allowed access to the most probable spot to initiate the drilling process, attempting to intersect the Canterbury Tunnel. Fortunately, some preliminary detective work conducted by Teter and his Parkville crew, increased the odds with the drill. They had researched former mining operations, particularly those that connected to the original Canterbury Tunnel for de-watering operations.

“By reading Cortellini’s old mine reports we knew that the Roseville Mine shaft connected with the Canterbury,” stated Teter. “So once we found the Roseville – which was approximately 60 feet off the tunnel –  we zeroed in on the best spots for drilling.”

Parkville’s detective work was dead on; the third bore broke through the Canterbury! Good thing too, because at $12,000 a bore, a more random process could have added considerably to the overall expenses.

There was also another variable to be considered when choosing the Roseville Mine shaft as the point of intersection: it was right at the edge of solid bedrock. 

“We’re pretty confident that we’re below all of the major water sources. That we’re in solid ground, so that we’re not going to have any cave-ins,” stated Teter when asked about the future stability of the Canterbury Tunnel and its reliability as a significant water source for the area.

Video – The New Canterbury Pump Station

So after locating the tunnel and successfully intersecting the passageway, the next step was to build a new pump station. It’s in this stage of planning that the project will most likely be considered visionary in future water discussions.

Instead of utilizing the old Canterbury distribution set-up, Parkville added another 8,200 feet of 10 inch polyethylene pipe to their system and routed the regained water source back up to the Big Evans Water Treatment Plant.

Beforehand, the water from the Canterbury was simply pumped directly into the distribution system on Poplar Street, bypassing the trek up to the water treatment plant below Big Evans Reservoir. The water would then go through a disinfection process before being released, but since the Canterbury water was never brought fully up to the plant, the entire system did not benefit from its warmer temperature.

It worked that way for years. In fact, many of the homes down in developments off Mountain View Drive benefited from that warm Canterbury water, particularly part-time homeowners whose water was not circulating as frequently and more prone to freezing.  But given the opportunity, the water company saw the benefits of bringing the 50 degree Canterbury water into the entire Parkville system. 

Once the entire project was complete in November 2012, initial reports indicated a 10 degree rise in overall water temperature. That’s a key factor for a district (and homeowners) whose constant battle includes freezing pipes. And the gamble paid off when in the winter of 2015 Parkville had its very first winter without ONE frozen pipe! The decision to run the extra million dollars in pipe, could very well have been the game-changer when it comes to the future of the Parkville Water District. 

So what’s in store for the future? How does their water supply and distribution system look for the projected growth for Leadville and Lake County? Last summer LT followed along as Parkville constructed one of the most historic – and necessary – water portals in its system: The Big Evans Bypass Flume! That’s what Leadville Today will cover in PART THREE of the Water, Water Everywhere Series. Stay Tuned! Did you miss PART ONE

The Parkville Water District Board of Directors meets the second Thursday of every month at 5:15 p.m. at the Parkville business office at 2015 N. Poplar Street (next to Pizza Hut) in Leadville. The public is encouraged to attend.

Kathy Bedell owns The Great Pumpkin, a media company that publishes two news sites: Leadville Today and Saguache Today. She may be reached at

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