While the real hit is to the environment, rivers outfitters along the Animas River is southwest Colorado are also feeling the effects of the recent mining waste spill that dumped more than 3 million gallons of toxic waste into the Animas from the Gold King Mine near Silverton.
With the river closed by order of the La Plata County sheriff, meaning no rafting, tubing or fishing, Mild to Wild Rafting owner Alex Mickel told the Denver Post that business is “very difficult” and that they’ve turned hundreds of customers away since the spill. “We are anticipating around $150,000 to $200,000 in lost revenue,” Mickel said. “But from an emotional standpoint, it’s difficult to see a beautiful river damaged in this way.”
Added 4 Corners Riversports co-owner Andy Corra, who estimates his kayak and rental business has declined 70 percent: “We are used to those bad years from drought and fire. But this is very different because we were having the best year ever. We are geared up and fully stocked and boom, the next day the river is closed,” Our biggest concern is that the river is healthy and that word gets out that we are back to normal.”
The sludge has since traveled through Durango and into the San Juan River and Lake Powell.
Regardless of financial losses for area outfitters, the bigger issue is the health of the river and taking steps to ensure it won’t happen again.
“There are two lessons we must learn from the Animas spill,” says American Rivers President Bob Irvin. “The first is that we need to hold mining companies and other polluters accountable for the damage they cause to clean water, river health and communities. Take responsibility for cleaning up your mess – don’t pass the cost on to taxpayers. The second is that we must stop proposed mines in the headwaters of pristine rivers, such as the Smith River in Montana. Looking at the toxic orange sludge contaminating the Animas River, we must stand together to say, ‘Never again’.”
“The toxic waste polluting the Animas River is a tragedy for Durango, and all of the communities that rely on this river for clean drinking water, irrigation, recreation and livelihood,” he adds. “This disaster is a reminder of our dependence on clean, healthy rivers, and the importance of rivers to our health and local economies.”
“While this particular spill was an accident, the disaster was a long time in the making. The Gold King mine owners walked away in 1923, leaving taxpayers stuck with the mess today. Abandoned mines are ticking time bombs, and there are more than 4,000 abandoned mines in Colorado alone. These mines continue to pose serious threats to rivers across the west.”
“Half of the rivers we named as America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2015 are threatened by mining: the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, Montana’s Smith River, Alaska’s Chuitna River, Oregon’s Rogue River, and Minnesota’s St. Louis River. Industrial scale mining can have devastating and permanent impacts and we must mobilize public action to protect clean water and river health.