Toxic mine waste spill into Animas River symptom of larger problem
1872 Mining Law reform needed to protect precious Western water resources
A toxic mining waste spill near Durango, Colorado spewed 3 million gallons of contaminated wastewater from the Gold King mine near Silverton into the Animas River last Wednesday.
“Last week’s tragic mining waste spill damaged wildlife, critical drinking water sources, tourism and agriculture for communities all along the Animas and San Juan rivers,” said Dan Olson, Executive Director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance. “While we need to address the immediate impacts of this disaster, we also need action to address the thousands of inactive mines across Colorado.”
“Forty percent of the headwaters of western watersheds have already been polluted by toxic mine waste,” said Jennifer Krill, Executive Director of Earthworks. “We shouldn’t need a disaster like the Animas River spill to finally take the necessary steps to clean up these old mine sites.”
The Gold King mine was mined from the 1880s to the 1920s and had been leaking toxic water at a rate of 50 to 250 gallons a minute for years. Earthworks’ report, Burden of Gilt, detailed the abandoned mine problem in the early 1990’s — and not much has changed in recent decades. About 12,000 miles of our nation’s waterways and 180,000 acres of our lakes and reservoirs are contaminated by mining pollution.
“Coloradans shouldn’t be left to bear the burden of these old and unreclaimed mines,” said Jennifer Thurston, director of the Information Network for Responsible Mining. “When a disaster like the one that the citizens of Durango and New Mexico are now facing happens, there are inadequate funds to clean up the mess. The 1872 Mining Law has no environmental or reclamation standards and allows mining companies to take minerals from public lands for free without adequate bonding requirements to protect the public.”
“It’s time to reform the antiquated 1872 Mining Law, including charging mining companies a fee for taking minerals from public lands and creating a steady-stream of clean up funds to protect our precious water resources from mining pollution” said Lauren Pagel, Policy Director for Earthworks. “The Hardrock Mining Reform and Reclamation Act of 2015, introduced by Congressman Grijalva (D-AZ) will do just that. If we do nothing, taxpayers will continue to foot the bill to clean up chemical-laced, undrinkable, orange rivers. ”