By Eilene Lyon
August 2015: I was working the MAPS bird-banding station at the Oxbow Park and Preserve along the Animas River, just north of Durango. Some of our volunteers happen to be active-duty, uniformed Parks and Wildlife officers, so we heard early on that something was amiss high in the San Juan Mountains above Silverton.
A contractor working for the EPA at the Gold King Mine had breached a retaining wall, loosing 5 million gallons of toxic mining waste into our beautiful, free-flowing river. It quickly became national news.
We ran over to the river banks to see for ourselves, but it would take hours before the wave of day-glow sludge would pass by the park. It would be another day before I watched it flow past my home south of town.
We take our water from a well, which just may delve into the water table fed by the river. I keep a frozen jar of water I poured from the tap before the heavy metals melted by, on their way to Lake Powell. All along the way, some of them filtered down to the river bed – and beyond.
It could take years or even decades, maybe never?, for the the toxins to impact our well water. If I notice anything odd, though, I’ve got my evidence.
Some of the reasons behind this event are rooted in greed and supported by the outdated 1872 mining law. It allows people to extract minerals from our public lands without even paying royalties, and more importantly, without having to clean up the mess they make.
With mountains riddled with tunnels, filling with spring- and rain-water which dissolve the minerals within the earth, the government’s response was to plug a hole and try to forget about it. But the water always wins. It must flow to the sea – along with our toxic legacy.
* The title refers to the fact that the stretch of water in these photos is a Colorado gold medal trout fishery