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Gold Metal Waters

Gold Metal Waters: The Animas River and the Gold King Mine Spill edited by Brad T. Clark and Pete McCormick

Reviewed by L. Bennett


On August 5, 2015 a contractor engaged by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made a mistake and more than 3 million gallons of toxic water drained from the Gold King Mine in the mountains above Silverton, Colorado. The mine waste water was a hackle-raising orange-yellow color and it flowed into the Animas River, passing through Silverton and Durango before dumping into the San Juan River. From there the heavy-metal laden water flowed through Farmington, and Shiprock, New Mexico, past the Four Corners and into Utah before disgorging into Lake Powell. The color of the water alone was sufficient to capture broadcast, print, and social media, but the potential for polluted culinary and farmland irrigation waters were more alarming.


The causes, consequences, and reactions still reverberate in the region today and have influenced mine reclamation across the country. Gold Metal Waters presents an analysis of the spill prepared principally by students and faculty at Fort Lewis College in Durango. The geology of the rock formations, history of hard rock mines, and the hydrology and ecology of the rivers are examined in detail as are the impacts to tourism, economy, and social values. Some chapters also address the politics of mine reclamation before and after the Gold King Mine spill, and the use of the legal system to seek compensation, reform, or revenge.


While the numerous authors strove to reach a general audience, I'm not sure they were consistently successful. The analysis focused on Colorado's response and circumstances, and gave only a cursory but revealing nod to the disruptions felt by residents of the Ute and Navajo reservations who were directly impacted by the spill. The book does not address any of the reactions or impacts experienced in Utah communities along the San Juan River. It would be a good read for those engaged in emergency planning, mine reclamation, public affairs, and environmental interest groups. I say this because those are the areas where the authors identified serious faults, omissions, and lack of foresight when dealing with the disaster. It is scholarly and enjoys the clarity of hindsight, but the book is also enlightening.


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