August 5, 2016--Finding a silver lining on the Gold King anniversary (Durango Telegraph)

One year later and it may seem as though little has changed. Residents are still waiting to be reimbursed for losses. Abandoned mines in the mountains north of Durango still seep waste into the watershed as helpful legislation oozes its way through Congress. A Superfund listing, supported by a majority of the community, is bogged down in federal bureaucracy; and, everyone is willing to point the finger yet no one is taking the blame. But, underneath it all, is a silver lining. “The silver lining is, it brings a whole lot of attention to a much-needed problem – and not just on the Animas,” said Ty Churchwell, San Juan Mountains Coordinator for Trout Unlimited. “Congress is finally paying attention.” On Aug. 5, 2015, contractors with the Environmental Protection Agency took a backhoe to the abandoned Gold King Mine outside Silverton, inadvertently unleashing millions of gallons of toxic mine wastewater into Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River.  The neon-orange sludge slowly made its way to Durango, New Mexico, across Navajo tribal lands and, eventually, into Lake Powell. Not only was the Tang-colored water enough for locals to take notice, it caught the world’s eye. Suddenly, everyone was aware of a problem communities across the West have been attempting to tackle for years – what to do with all the abandoned mines. For decades, local organizations like the Animas River Stakeholders Group have tried to tackle the problem with some, if little, success. The biggest barrier has always been federal legislation. Under the Clean Water Act and other laws, anyone who attempts to clean up an abandoned mine becomes legally responsible for that site in perpetuity – meaning any Good Samaritan would be libel for that mine and any of its contaminants for all time. Over the past several years, Colorado’s congressional representatives from both sides of the aisle have introduced legislation, commonly referred to as Good Samaritan bills, hoping to address the legal loopholes. Today, those bills are still alive and moving forward. In part, because of the national attention brought about by the spill. To view the full article visit Durango Telegraph.