August 18, 2015--After the blowout: Silverton faces watershed moment in wake of Gold King Spill (Silverton Standard)

Tucked in amongst towering mountains and surrounded by wilderness with no easy way in or out, Silverton is one of the smallest, highest, most rugged and isolated communities in Colorado. But the three million gallon spill that the Environmental Protection Agency accidentally unleashed from the nearby Gold King Mine into Cement Creek and the Animas River on Aug. 5 thrust the tiny town into the national spotlight, and underscored just how connected – and responsible – Silverton is to downstream communities from Durango to Lake Powell. The blowout has also driven home how easy it is to misconstrue the complicated forces of man and nature that combined to create it. Journalists took their cue from the yellow color of the water in the days following the blowout, describing the plume of polluted mine drainage in apocalyptic terms ranging from “orange acid water” to “a million gallons of filthy yellow mustard” and “a puke-colored plume of mine runoff.” (Conan O’Brien took the prize with his satiric video promoting a kayak ride from hell along a 30-mile stretch of “arsenic-laced, mustard-colored doom juice.”) Silverton residents have another term for the color Cement Creek turned in the mine blowout’s aftermath: familiar. Every spring, during peak runoff, Cement Creek – and in turn, a portion of the Animas River downstream – run almost that same turbid, nasty hue. It’s the nature of the place. From its headwaters in the shadow of the Red Mountains, Cement Creek plummets past a cluster of leaky old mine adits on the slopes of Bonita Peak in the upper reaches of the Cement Creek drainage, passing right beneath the now-infamous Gold King Mine. The creek then flows through the ghost town of Gladstone in the valley down below, where the two-mile-long American Tunnel used to provide access to the Sunnyside Mine, and where a water treatment plant once treated that mine’s discharge but has since been dismantled.

While Cement Creek picks up a significant amount of mine drainage along the way (more so in recent years than in the past), its low pH and often rusty tint are also due to the surrounding iron-rich mountains themselves, which are located within the San Juan Triangle – one of the most heavily mineralized and volcanized patches of the earth’s crust. Even EPA officials readily admit the creek will never be able to support fish.

Finally, about six miles later, it runs straight through Silverton where it meets the Animas River. While Cement Creek picks up a significant amount of mine drainage along the way (more so in recent years than in the past), its low pH and often rusty tint are also due to the surrounding iron-rich mountains themselves, which are located within the San Juan Triangle – one of the most heavily mineralized and volcanized patches of the earth’s crust. Even EPA officials readily admit the creek will never be able to support fish. To view the full article and report visit the Silverton Standard.