The Animas spill, Nevada gold mines and a shrinking Salt Lake. news in brief.


In August, a plume of sludge spilled from a dormant mine and into the Animas River, which flows through Durango, Colorado, before joining the San Juan River, which runs into Lake Powell. The orange pollution plume transfixed communities downriver, as they waited for it to pass through. The spill — caused as the Environmental Protection Agency was working on cleaning up the defunct Gold King Mine — was an ugly reminder of the West’s mining legacy. The spill could be an impetus for more meaningful measures to deal with mine waste. New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich, D, says he will seek to change federal mining law to allow for the collection of royalties from companies to help clean up contaminants. As for the spill itself, sampling done by the EPA upstream from Durango put the Animas River’s water acidity on par with that of black coffee, with elevated levels of iron, manganese, zinc and copper. But by the time it reached town, the acidity had been diluted significantly, and levels of those metals were far lower, though still “scary,” EPA officials said. 
-Jonathan Thompson

3 million: estimated number of gallons of contaminated water and sludge that flowed from the Gold King Mine in August

400: number of abandoned mines in the Silverton, Colorado, watershed, many of which leak acidic water that dissolves naturally occurring heavy metals, leaving dead zones downstrea

1: number of fish that died, out of 108 tested, after being exposed to river water in the first 24 hours after the spill


You say

Bobbi Maiers: “It’s not just a Durango issue or a Colorado issue, but an entire Western water issue. Just because some fish haven’t died yet doesn’t mean there aren’t myriad long-term negative effects.”

Carole Clark: “I live in New Mexico and am heartbroken for far too many reasons, as far too many unknowns will never be resolved.”

Maria Heckel: “So very sad to return from a trip on the Green River to this news.”

Scott Cejka: “Blame falls squarely on the mining companies who leave their sites with these messes. They are the ones who should be vilified here. And they are the ones who should be paying in perpetuity to fix them.”

The contaminated Animas River as it ran through Durango in early August.
Jonathan Thompson

Despite the drop in gold prices and stagnation of the industry globally, the gold-mining business in Elko, Nevada, seems to be doing fine. Elko has so far been immune to the downturns of a historically volatile industry. Over the past decade, the number of mining jobs in Nevada has grown 78 percent; the state mines 79 percent of all U.S.-produced gold. In 2013, Elko County alone produced nearly 670,000 ounces of gold, worth — in today’s prices — more than $670 million.
-Paige Blankenbuehler 

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“Racism has always been here — it’s never left. Go to the jailhouse. (It’s) full of Natives.”

—Dean Goggles, chairman of the Northern Arapaho Business Council and cousin of James Goggles Jr., a tribal member shot by a white male at a detox facility in Riverton, Wyoming, in July. Northern Arapaho officials want the killings prosecuted as a hate crime.


Phalaropes fly over the Great Salt Lake.
Dakin Henderson

There are more phalaropes at one time at the Great Salt Lake than are found anywhere else, with more than a third of the population in the world stopping there en route to South America. In the latest in HCN’s Wild Science video series, Migratory birds on the Great Salt Lake, a scientist looks at salt levels in the shrinking lake and their impact on the invertebrates and birds that rely on it.
-Dakin Henderson


“It kind of looks like they’re swimming in the sky.”

—Maureen Frank, Utah State University

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