Animas River: a History of Mining Contaminations

My family lived in western Colorado for many years, and one of us lived in Cortez in the southwest corner of the state. This is within an hour’s drive of Durango and not much farther from Silverton. I love the area. Just about any location on Colorado’s western slopes evoke nostalgia and childhood memories.

It’s easy to be upset with the recent mining water contamination of Animas River, but not because it’s a recent contamination. The upsetting part is any pollution, now or the myriad of times in the past from different mines. High Country News’ senior editor, John Thompson, wrote a thorough cover article on the Upper Animas River watershed, which has hosted over 400 mines since 1870. The incident earlier this month isn’t even the biggest of the catastrophes. 1975 faced 50,000 tons of metals and 1978 had half a million gallons of water that blasted through an active mine–compared to the 3 million gallons that recently burst from Gold King mine.

Over the years the Environmental Protection Agency wanted to label the watershed as a Superfund site, which would provide funding for an extensive clean up. However, local groups argued that the interconnected hydrology was too sensitive for a large scale effort. It seems even small scale clean ups are risky. The EPA plugged a nearby mine, but the water built up in Gold King and broke out from there.

This isn’t new, but it’s important to be aware that with the region’s history the news will not get old for a long time.

Featured image by Alan English CPA, flickr user.

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