Learn how to protect the environment

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By Jerry Fabyanic

There’s nothing like a mountain stream of yellow to draw one’s attention. The Gold King Mine disaster in Silverton 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 minds 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 and 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 small percentage of the discharge that leaks, seeps and spews the equivalent of the one-time Gold King event every two days.

There 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. Across the western U.S., at least 5 million.

Of the 23,000 abandoned Colorado mines, less than half, only 9,000, 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 million gallons.

That’s the bad news. The really bad news is those 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 million to build a water treatment plant, such as has been done with great success at the Argo Mine in Idaho Springs, and $1 million 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 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 with 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, proactive, preventive 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 relates to 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, Sept. 19.

“This is our seventh annual Watershed 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, snowmaking, fly-tying and fishing, gold panning, live local musicians, face painting and more!” Crouse said. “So, come and check it out!”

Jerry Fabyanic is a Georgetown resident and regular columnist for the Clear Creek Courant. He also hosts Western Exposure on KGOAT radio 102.7 FM alternate Saturdays at 3 p.m. Respond to his comments by e-mailing westexp@aol.com.