Trout Unlimited today called for urgent legislative action to help clean up the scourge of abandoned hardrock mines across the West in the wake of a catastrophic spill of some 1 million gallons of toxic abandoned mine runoff into a tributary of the Animas River above Durango, Colo.
A plume of orange toxic heavy metals coursed down the Animas through Durango on Thursday and moved toward the New Mexico state line. The spill could threaten the health of valuable fisheries and wildlife habitat in the Animas basin. State wildlife officials are currently testing the fishery to gauge impacts.
“This toxic spill into the Animas is a shocking incident that underscores how vulnerable our rivers, streams and fisheries are to abandoned hardrock mine pollution,” said Steve Kandell, director of TU’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project. “Trout Unlimited will be monitoring the situation in coming days to assess the impact to our waters and world-class trout fishery in the Animas River. Needless to say, the health of our local community and recreation-based economy depends heavily on water quality. This is a wake-up call to Coloradans and the nation on the need to find solutions to abandoned mine cleanup.”
There are an estimated 500,000 abandoned hardrock mines, affecting some 40 percent of headwaters in the West. Hundreds of these mine sites dot the San Juan Mountains area, many oozing a witches’ brew of toxic heavy metals that devastate aquatic life.
For years, Trout Unlimited and other so-called “Good Samaritan” groups have been working voluntarily to clean up these mine sites, but they’ve been thwarted by liability issues under current federal law and the high cost of meeting regulations. TU and other stakeholders have supported a legislative solution in Congress that would limit Good Samaritan liability under the Clean Water Act for abandoned mine cleanups.
Trout Unlimited is actively working with industry, agriculture, elected officials, the Animas River Stakeholders Group and others to find a policy solution that provides more incentives and support for cleaning up these toxic mine sites. To learn more about the abandoned mine problem and how to take action, go to www.sanjuancleanwater.org.
“Abandoned mines are a cancer threatening the health of rivers and streams in southwest Colorado and many other areas of the West,” said Ty Churchwell, Colorado backcountry coordinator for Trout Unlimited. “If we do nothing, we’re inviting more catastrophes like the Animas spill. It’s time for action.”
Trout Unlimited is the nation’s oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization dedicated to conserving, protecting and restoring North America’s trout and salmon and their watersheds. Follow TU on Facebook and Twitter, and follow our blog for all the latest information on trout and salmon conservation.