Since the 1870s, metal mining had turned the earth under portions of southwest Colorado into a maze of tunnels and shuttered sites oozing with chemicals. In the Animas River watershed alone, there are about 200 abandoned mines, the last to close was Sunnyside in 1991.
Note: The Animas River is a 126-mile-long tributary of the San Juan River, part of the Colorado River System.
A week ago, on August 5, 2015, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) workers investigating an acid discharge from Gold King and three other mines in the mountains north of Silverton, “accidentally” triggered a toxic waste spill that now threatens wildlife, livestock, water wells, sediment and river-based jobs along the stretch of the Animas River.
According to the EPA, on the day of the accident, a team from the agency was investigating the Gold King mine, abandoned for nearly a century, in order to stench a leakage of toxic water at a rate of 50 to 250 gallons a minute. Using a backhoe to hack at loose material, EPA workers accidentally released a deluge of orange water, spilling millions of gallons of toxic waste into Cement Creek and flowing into the Animas River.
4 days after the spill, on Sunday, the EPA admitted that the amount of toxic water released was three times what was previously stated — more than three million gallons rather than one million — and that officials were still unsure if there was a health threat to humans or animals. But the EPA’s own tests found that the wastewater spill has caused levels of arsenic, lead and other metals to spike in the Animas River.
On Monday, Colorado Gov. John W. Hickenlooper released $500,000 in funds for assistance. The City of Durango and La Plata County have declared states of emergency.
Soon after the spill was detected, Durango city officials swiftly took action to protect the city’s drinking supply by stopping water from the Animas from being pumped into the reservoir that provides drinking water for the city’s 17,000 residents. But that action cannot protect the people who live outside Durango, most of whom use wells; officials say about 1,000 residential water wells could be contaminated.
The Animas River is now closed indefinitely, its orange water has traveled down to the Navajo Nation and New Mexico, where officials in several municipalities have stopped pumping river water into drinking water systems, fearing contamination.
But was the toxic waste spill “accidental”?
ZeroHedge reports that a week before the EPA’s accidental spill, a retired geologist named Dave Taylor wrote a letter to The Silverton Standard & The Miner local newspaper, in which he predicted the EPA would contaminate Cement Creek (which flows into the Animas River) in order to secure superfund money.
Note: Superfund is the federal government’s program to clean up America’s uncontrolled hazardous waste sites.
Here’s a screenshot of Dave Taylor’s letter as proof, followed by the letter in type script, with explanatory remarks by me in [brackets]:
EPA plan is really a ‘Superfund blitzkrieg’
I came to Silverton this summer to enjoy my retirement, appreciate nature and prospect the mountains for unique minerals. I came here to enjoy a simple life with no TV and no politics, but unfortunately that has changed. Your EPA dilemma has caused my blood to boil.
Based on my 47 years of experience as a professional geologist, it appears to me that the EPA is setting your town and the area up for a possible Superfund blitzkrieg.
In regards to your meeting with the EPA on June 23, Mr. Hestmark’s (EPA representative) statement “we don’t have an agenda” is either ignorant naivety or an outright falsehood. I am certain Mr. Hestmark’s hydrologists have advised him what’s going to happen when the Red & Bonita portals are plugged and the “grand experiment” begins with unknown and unforeseeable results and possible negative consequences. [Martin Hestmark is the Assistant Regional Administrator of Ecosystems Protection and Remediation in the EPA’s Region 8 Office. The Red and Bonita Mines are close to the Gold King Mine. See the EPA fact sheet, “Red and Bonita Mine Bulkhead Construction.” Another word for “plug” is “bulkhead”.]
Here’s the scenario that will occur based on my experience:
Following the plugging, the exfiltrating water will be retained behind the bulkheads [aka plugs], accumulating at a rate of approximately 500 gallons per minute. As the water backs up, it will begin filling all connected mine fillings and bedrock voids and fractures. As the water level inside the workings continues to rise, it will accumulate head pressure at a rate of 1 PSI [pounds per square inch] per each 2.31 feet of vertical rise. As the water continues to migrate through and fill interconnected workings, the pressure will increase. Eventually,without a doubt. The water will find a way out and will exfiltrate uncontrollably through connected abandoned shafts, drifts, raises, fractures and possibly from talus from the hillsides. Initially it will appear that the miracle fix is working.
But make no mistake, within 7 to 120 days all of the 500 gpm[gallons per minute] flow will return to Cement Creek. Contamination may actually increase due to disturbance and flushing action within the workings.
The “grand experiment” in my opinion will fail. And guess what Mr. Hestmark will say then?
Gee, “Plan A” didn’t work so I guess we will have to build a treatment plant at a cost to taxpayers of $100 million to $500 million (who knows).
Reading between the lines, I believe that has been the EPA’s plan all along. The proposed Red & Bonita plugging plan has been their way of getting a foot in the door to justify their hidden agenda for construction of a treatment plant.After all, with a budget of $8.2 billion and 17,000 employees, the EPA needs new, big projects to feed the best and justify their existence.
I would recommend that anyone who owns a home, property water well or spring in the Cement Creek drainage take water samples ASAP to protect themselves from groundwater changes that may be caused by the EPA plugging operation!
God bless America! God bless Silverton, Colorado. And God protect us from the EPA.
–Dave Taylor, Farmington
On August 12, 2015, Mark Esper, editor and publisher of Silverton Standard and the Miner confirmed that the newspaper did publish Taylor’s letter on July 30, 2015.
Dr. Eowyn’s article previously appeared at Fellowship of the Minds.