The EPA's wastewater treatment plant near Silverton, Colorado, on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2015.

(Grace Hood/CPR News)

The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday will flip the switch at a $1.5 million wastewater treatment plant near the Gold King Mine outside Silverton.

The plant is intended to replace a temporary system established to treat nearly 600 gallons of water draining from the mine every minute.

“The discharge out of the Gold King now is higher than anybody’s seen it. It was down below 100 gallons a minute last year,” said EPA on-scene coordinator Steven Way.

The EPA had been treating the water laced with heavy metals in small ponds, manually treating the water, and releasing into nearby Cement Creek. But Way said that system wouldn’t work through the cold winter months.

“There may be a couple of people through the winter here as needed. It’s not a 24-hour a day staffing [need],” said Way.

Work on the treatment plant was happening on a tight deadline; snow has already fallen on peaks in the San Juan Mountains.

An executive at Alexico, the company that designed the plant, told the Durango Herald the facility could be expanded on should regulators decide to employ it in their long-term plans for the site. Way said that decision will be made over the winter months. 

The agency accidentally released 3 million gallons of orange wastewater during investigative work at the mine Aug. 5. The temporary plant is expected to cost about $16,000 per week to operate.