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The residents of La Plata County mourned the tangerine-colored river two weeks ago, and are now digesting the water quality data that the EPA and third party research institutions, like Mountain Studies Institute (MSI), have put forth to try and understand what this means for us and the future of the Animas River. Unfortunately, the events of early August were not a singular incident. They were a harsh reminder of a truth that exists in the mountains above us—the San Juan Mountains are peppered with abandoned mines that continually leach heavy metals into tributaries of the Animas River. The legacy of mining in the San Juan Mountains is the fabric of our current communities today. The metal-laden rocks that form this unique corridor of the Rocky Mountains provided an economic opportunity, that attracted people to take up residence in this harsh environment and build a lifestyle that centered on extracting minerals from the mountains. To understand the complete impact of the Gold King Mine spill, we must understand the legacy and future of mining in the San Juan Mountains, and the reclamation of mining disturbances to ensure a healthier ecosystem.

MSI, along with our partners, host an annual San Juan Mining and Reclamation Conference that each year highlights a different San Juan Mountain communities’ mining heritage and successes in addressing mine remediation and water quality improvement. The conference is free and open to the public, and provides an educational opportunity for the public and other stakeholders to learn from industry professional about the science and policy of mining, mine lands remediation, improving mining practices, and water quality as it pertains to non-point source pollution. You can watch videos of past San Juan Mining & Reclamation Conference presentations from industry professionals on our website here: www.mountainstudies.org/sjmrc


The Gold King spill, while terribly alarming in and of itself, is not an isolated occurrence. More than anything, it highlights the need for mine reclamation in the San Juan Mountains. The San Juan Mining and Reclamation Conference provides an opportunity to discuss, educate and collaborate on the importance of clean up and reclamation of abandoned mines like the Gold King for public health. There are hundreds of mine adits, just like the Gold King that leak contaminated water into Cement Creek, and thereby the Animas River, every day. The importance of clean up and reclamation of all our upstream mines on water quality was horrifically apparent this month, but serves as a reminder of what we are silently contending with every day.

You can learn more about the legacy and future of mining in the San Juan Mountains by visiting our website: www.mountainstudies.org/sjmrc, and by watching the SJM&RC videos available through our website and youtube: MountainstudiesCO. Consider attending next year’s mining conference to learn more about the issues we face and the ways that we have begun to address these problems. Thank you very much to all of the sponsors of the 2015 conference that made it possible to bring you this unique two-day educational opportunity to learn more about the region in which we live.

Video Produced, Edited and Filmed by Alex Pullen
Location Sound and Music Composed by James Mirabal

To see other writings by Alex Pullen click here, or if you would like to see more of his work, visit him at alexpullen.com