Animas River / Gold King Mine Spill

Matt Gerhardt
Paddling on the contaminated Animas River.
Photo by Andy Hobson
As most of you are aware, it has been a rough week in our little town. The incident at Gold King Mine and the contamination of the Animas River has left all of us here at 4CRS and in Durango with a slew of emotions. What has happened is tragic and disheartening, and to the boating community, these wounds cut deep. It has been a difficult week for us all watching our home river being coated in Yellow Boy (iron hydroxide, responsible for the orange coloring of the plume) and all the nasty heavy metals associated with it. With such a shocking change from the norm in the Animas, it is easy and understandable to feel angry, afraid and compelled to start pointing fingers, especially with all the national media coverage (and mis-coverage) of this event. We have felt much the same way. It is very hard to watch these events unfold on our backyard river we love so much and not start placing the blame on the entities directly involved in this accident. But an important thing to remember throughout this situation is that this is not a new problem on the Animas. While the Gold King Mine spill was a tragic event that caused a major spike in acidity and heavy metal loading in the river, this problem has been ongoing for decades, and will continue until something major is done to solve the problem. There are an estimated 20,000 abandoned mines in SW Colorado and many of those leach the same toxic water into the Animas and surrounding rivers and creeks 24/7, 365 days a year. No single entity is solely responsible for what happened and the circumstances leading up to the event. In many ways we are all responsible in one way or another, regardless of whether it was direct, hands-on influence, or simply a failure to pay attention and take sufficient action on the ticking time bomb of abandoned mines in Colorado, in the US and throughout the world. This is a problem that will not go away until we make it go away. It is time as a community, a region and a nation to come together to find a long-term solution to these problems. Approximately 40% of the headwaters in the West are affected by toxic mine runoff. The problem is not just on the Animas, but on MANY major waterways in the United States. The ultimate solution will be extremely complex, long-drawn, and expensive, however we, as a community and a nation, cannot afford to NOT take action. These leaking mine sites are disasters waiting to happen. And they WILL happen again, unless we begin taking action NOW. We, along with the rest of Durango, are deeply concerned about the health of the Animas, as well as all rivers. The Animas will heal with time, as will our emotional and financial wounds from this tragedy. The important thing is that we do not forget, we do not become complacent again. The time has come to find a long-term solution to protecting our rivers and the resources they provide for all of us. Whatever that solution ultimately is, whether it is Superfund designation or not, it is time to start taking action NOW! ~Andy, Tony, Matt, Ashleigh & the rest of the 4Corners Riversports Crew To get help get involved, please consider joining or supporting these organizations that help protect our rivers: http://www.animasriverstakeholdersgroup.org/ http://sanjuancitizens.org/ http://www.mountainstudies.org/ http://www.tu.org/ http://www.lposc.org/ http://www.americanrivers.org/ https://www.americanwhitewater.org/ For a good synopsis of the Gold King Spill and the history leading up to it, see: https://www.hcn.org/articles/when-our-river-turned-orange-animas-river-spill