The Gold King Disaster: What Can We Do NOW?

This is a sample of Animas River water taken by Mountain Studies Institute late last night in Durango. Not good folks.

A lot of people have been contacting SJCA to ask what they can do. Here’s a pass at our initial thoughts.

First, this tragedy will play out in two phases: acute/immediate and everything after. SJCA is giving a lot of thought to what “everything after” means, and there is going to be a big need for community engagement with that effort, but right now our energy is focused on the acute problem at hand.

The bleak reality is this: not much, if anything, can be done to contain the damage. Since the mine is still leaking – though at a much lower rate and, theoretically, lower toxicity levels – the EPA is working to create a settling pond to slow any continuing metals loading.

Outside that effort, the focus is on monitoring, analyzing, understanding, and preventing public contact with the contaminants. Though the EPA was unacceptably slow in their initial response, after today’s meeting I believe they and every other public agency grasp the potential gravity of this situation.

If you want someplace to add your voice, something to do, here are three initial ideas:

  1. Contact your representatives to tell them you are concerned. They’ve heard, loud and clearly, from many constituents and I believe they are focused on the problem. That said, let’s not lower our voices yet. The more they hear from us, the more pressure they put on agencies involved with response.
  2. Kick a few bucks over to Mountain Studies Institute. They have been collecting water and macro-invertebrate samples before and during the event, and need some help getting those samples analyzed. EPA is sampling, but we need an independent perspective on what’s in that water. Here’s a donation link. $5 bucks multiplied by the number of people saddened and outraged by this event would be sufficient, so let’s all chip in.
  3. Bear witness. I mean it. If the EPA is having a meeting – show up. If the county is soliciting input – give it. While most of us can’t DO much right now, we can pay attention and by doing so honor the river and our affected community members. We can listen and learn how we can help. The next flashy issue will come along soon to distract us. Don’t be distracted. This is our community, this is our issue, so stay on it.

While we humans can shut down water intakes and irrigation ditches as the worst of the pollution passes, the critters that call the river home and that don’t read closure signs will be less fortunate. How bad this event will be for river health and all the species that depend on its waters is unknown. We can only hope at outcomes. We have no control.

Sadly, this pollution “event” will persist long after the plume passes. As the plume moves by, the toxins settle out, especially in slower-moving waters. That pollution will likely raise its ugly head for months and years to come.

We need more watershed advocacy. This disaster was both a tragedy and inevitable. There are more Gold King mines waiting to make themselves known, and that’s why SJCA is already thinking about “everything after…”

5 Comments

  • Janneli Millee says:

    Thanks you guys – this is absolutely spot on-

  • Thanks. Good info. And you know I am a Producer of environmental and social justice video. This issue is where the two meet. While I was not interviewed for your campaign organizer position, I am now offering to help get the messages out, over the next two years – yes, through web video and social media outlets. Please call me. Thanks again for your work.

  • Bobbi Maiers says:

    Thanks for this, SJCA. You’re right — our community, our issue. I’m angry, and so afraid — but the only thing that helps is being informed. Please continue to put out information.

  • Sarah says:

    Thank you for this – helpful to know how to help.

  • Anne Markward says:

    Hey Dan – great comments, and so true. Know that SW Colorado Great Old Broads are here to help in any way we can. Lots of folks have been asking me these same questions. I’m going to repost your three points in a news letter I’m sending out today, okay?

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