July 24, 2016--Gold King one year later: Colorado’s mustard-yellow disaster spurs plans for leaking mine (Denver Post)

One year after a plume of mustard-yellow mine waste washed into the Animas River from the Gold King Mine, prompting international coverage and concerns for the health of those who depend on the river, the water again looks clear. But hundreds of gallons a minute of acidic metals-laced muck continue to drain into the headwaters of the Animas, which ranks among the West’s most-contaminated watersheds. Environmental Protection Agency crews still are preparing to stabilize the Gold King’s collapsed portal to gain access for cleanup. Federal steps toward a Superfund cleanup still consist mostly of meetings. The EPA decision on whether to designate the Gold King and other nearby mines a national priority disaster — crucial to secure cleanup funds — still hasn’t been made. While the Gold King blowout boosted awareness of the tens of thousands of dormant mines draining into western waterways, Congress continues to debate remedies, failing so far to create a national cleanup fund and reduce Clean Water Act liability to encourage voluntary cleanups. And Colorado lawmakers, too, have been considering the problem but haven’t yet acted to increase state mining regulators’ capacity. State inspectors have not begun planned visits of 140 leaking mines, those causing the worst harm along more than 1,800 miles of streams classified as impaired. 

“The Gold King Mine release has prompted some activities, like the draining mines inventory and characterization efforts through the Mining Impacted Streams Task Force — but no new money for the Inactive Mines Program that the program wouldn’t potentially have received absent the Gold King release,” said Ginny Brannon, director of Colorado’s Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety. “There’s nothing we can do now that we could not do before,” Brannon said. So what is the overall legacy, one year later, of the Gold King disaster? It prompted Silverton and San Juan County to reverse their long opposition to a federally run cleanup. Numerous local forums have been held for planning what might be done. But conditions at the Gold King and hundreds of other inactive mines, steadily contaminating waterways to the point that fish cannot reproduce, remain the same as on Aug. 5, 2015, when EPA-led contractors botched efforts to open the portal and triggered a 3 million-gallon deluge. “There’s much more awareness about the issue of abandoned mines,” said Peter Butler, chairman of the Animas River Stakeholders Group that for two decades drove efforts to deal the acid metals draining into mountains above Silverton. “Whether or not that’s going to translate to any real, substantive action to address the issue remains to be seen,” Butler said. To view the full article visit the Denver Post.