Abandoned Mines

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will take the first major steps this summer to clean up wastewater flowing from dozens of old mines at a Superfund site in southwestern Colorado, officials said Thursday.

The work includes dredging contaminated sediment from streams and ponds, diverting water away from tainted mine waste piles and covering contaminated soil at campgrounds.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

This week two Republican members of Colorado’s congressional delegation -- Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton -- introduced a bill to create a pilot program for so-called “good Samaritans” who want to clean up the country’s abandoned mines.  

Luke Runyon / KUNC

In early August three years ago, Barb Horn stood along the banks of the Animas River in the city of Durango, Colorado. Word had spread of a mine waste spill upstream near Silverton. She waited, alongside hundreds of others, for the waste to appear. But the plume took longer than expected and eventually arrived at night.

The next morning, she saw the change.

“It was absolutely surreal,” Horn says. “And I think that's why it went viral. It’s like somebody photoshopped the river orange.”

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Gov. John Hickenlooper has formally requested that a set of abandoned mines above Silverton be listed as a Superfund site. The request comes nearly seven months after an Environmental Protection Agency cleanup crew triggered a massive spill of polluted water from the Gold King Mine, turning the Animas River orange.

A Superfund listing may seem like a solution to the area's long-standing problem of mine pollution, but getting a site on the National Priorities List, EPA's official compendium of Superfund sites, is just the first step in a lengthy process.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Carol and John Wagner’s ranch is surrounded by green pastures, with spectacular views of the northern San Juan mountains. The Wagners moved here from Pennsylvania in 1986, to raise cattle. When they first arrived, Carol said they wondered what was wrong with the creek that meandered through their property.

“Nothing could live in it,” she recalled. Grass didn’t grow along its banks, and there were no fish or bugs.

That creek, called Kerber Creek, is just a small piece of the legacy left by hard rock mining across the West. When Tang-colored water spilled from a mine into the Animas River, it caught the nation’s attention. Yet unknown to most, there are people who work day in and day out cleaning up the many hundreds of abandoned mine sites across Colorado. This sort of mine cleanup work is a never-ending process, fraught with logistical challenges, financing problems, even the looming threat of lawsuits.

USFWS/Ann Froschauer

The U.S. Forest Service says it’s weighing options when it comes to renewing a closure of caves and abandoned mines in Colorado and four other states. The news comes as one environmental group is calling for even more closures in the West to prevent the spread of White Nose Syndrome, which has killed millions of bats on the East Coast.

Bruce McAllister / Environmental Protection Agency - Public Domain

Colorado Senator Mark Udall took to the US Senate floor Tuesday morning in an attempt to find better ways volunteers can legally help clean up abandoned hard rock mines in the west. Polluted water flows out of these mines and that can contaminate entire watersheds.

Congress Wants to Accelerate Clean Up of Colorado Mines

Jul 18, 2011
Capitol News Connectiona

Colorado’s abandoned mines are notorious safety and environmental hazards. Congress is working on legislation that could accelerate the clean-up and closure of the potential death traps. But the idea is not without hazards of its own.