16 September 2015: Lessons to be learned from the Gold King spill

Lessons to be learned from the Gold King spill

There’s nothing like a mountain stream of yellow to draw one’s attention. The Gold King mine disaster certainly did that. As the incongruent mustard color disappeared from the river, so has the disaster’s intensity from the consciousness of the average person.

Maybe. I’d like to think that the visual imagery has left a permanent etch on the mind and consciousness of people. Time will tell.

In the political world it has not been a lost opportunity. Acrimonious debate, finger-pointing, and demagoguery, especially in the Republican congress, have held sway alongside legitimate concerns about the river’s safety given the release of heavy metals, carcinogenic materials such as cadmium, copper, lead, arsenic, manganese, zinc and other contaminants that we live in proximity with each day. My computer is loaded with them. So is yours. So is theirs.

Did the EPA blow it by triggering the blowout by not taking necessary precautions? Or was it inevitable? With regard to culpability who, at the end of the day, is responsible? After all, the material discharged by the Gold King mine is in reality but a percent of the discharge that leaks, seeps, and spews the equivalent of the one-time Gold King event every two days.

Those are a lot of holes in the ground contributing to that. Across Colorado alone, 23,000 abandoned mines exist, 1,600 in the Clear Creek/Central City region alone. Across the western U.S., at least 5000,000.

Of the 23,000 abandoned Colorado mines, less than half, only 9000, have had work done to them by the state to reduce their flows of hazardous materials. Each day, that same amount is discharged from mines across the state, primarily from 230 of them, equivalent to the Gold King: 3,000,000 gallons.

That’s the bad news. The really bad news is the ones who precipitated the poisonous flows are not around, or even if they are, they will not likely be held accountable.

What can be done about it/them, though? Taxpayers can spend $20,000,000 dollars to build a water treatment plant, such as has been done with great success at the Argo mine in Idaho Springs, and $1,000,000 annually to operate it as long as it is leaking, or as a Denver Post reporter succinctly put it, “forever.”

Here in Clear Creek, the situation is much more manageable and is being managed. Efforts over the past 20 years at the Argo Mine, including the recently installed concrete wall reported on by the Courant last week, and on the ongoing treatment ops at the Henderson Mine have been praiseworthy to say the least.

Dave Holm of the Clear Creek Watershed Foundation explained how, despite the existence of many more mines here compared to the Silverton area, mine cleanup is not as challenging as it is elsewhere. Much has to do with the elevation but also annual precipitation. In addition, pro-active, preventative work by Climax Molybdenum has helped keep West Clear Creek quite clean.

To become more educated about the complications of mines and cleanup efforts, take time to listen to my interview with Holm and Chris Crouse, also of the Watershed, on the KYGT website’s News & Talk Page: http://www.kygt.org.

There are two big lessons from the Gold King spill. One regards the universe of problems with which we are confronted due to our mining history. The other is more global: What have we wrought and are still “wroughting”?

The Gold King incident ought to give us pause about the havoc we’re wreaking and sowing for future generations, from fracking to “the tons of plastic waste floating between the West Coast and Hawaii that according to some estimates covers an area twice the size of Texas,” as reported by the Associated Press.

We cannot change the past, but we can act now to mitigate mistakes made and work to prevent future calamities. As the old saw goes, “Think globally, but act locally.”

You can do that by participating in the Clear Creek Watershed Festival this Saturday, September 19th.

“This is our seventh annual watershed festival,” Festival organizer Crouse told me. “It’s a chance to learn what a watershed is and what makes the Clear Creek Watershed so special: our natural resources, history, ecotourism, and this amazing community.”

Not only will it be a great learning opportunity, it promises to be fun.

“We’ll have a climbing tower, obstacle course, snow making, fly tying and fishing, gold panning, live local musicians, face painting and more!” said Crouse. “So, come and check it out!”

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