Say the names of these Colorado towns out loud: Silverton. Leadville. Silver Plume. Rico. Bonanza. Ironton. The last two are ghost towns, but the names of each allude to a history that - most of the time - is nearly invisible to most of the state's residents.
That mineral-rich past burst into the public consciousness after Environmental Protection Agency workers mistakenly triggered a release of contaminated water from the Gold King mine just above Silverton. The rust-colored water, laden with iron and several heavy metals, including very high concentrations of arsenic and lead, oozed its way down the Animas River, through the town of Durango and into New Mexico and beyond.
In the spill's wake, many questions have been raised. One is, just how big is the scale of mining wastewater problems in Colorado? Another is, what is being done to clean them up?