Just how bad is the EPA disaster in Colorado?

Ronald Reagan: Government is not the solution to the problem.  Government is the problem.

Last Wednesday the Environmental Protection Agency was involved in a major screw-up that has the potential of seriously affecting and entire ecosystem.  Details of what has happened is still sketchy because it’s apparently not being covered widely in the news media yet.  The EPA was working on cleaning up contaminated water in old abandoned mines in the Colorado area and after plugging up one mine the created a water backlash the resulted in a blowout from another exit to the mine resulting in 3 million gallons of contaminated water dumping into the Animas River.  The incident occurred at 10:30 in the morning and by 8 o’clock that evening it had reached Durango, Colordao, 50 miles away as it worked its way into New Mexico.  In Durango hundreds had line the banks of the river to watch it turn the foul yellow color.


Originally the EPA had set the estimate at 1 million gallons that had flooded the Animas River but that was already being questioned after the initial report.  Sunday evening the much higher 3 million gallon estimate was released by the EPA but some are saying that’s still an underestmation.  After the debacle the EPA was asked if the contaminated water would make its way into the well water and a spokesman from the EPA said they didn’t know.  That was a statement made in either absolute incompetence or a lie.  Of course this was going to make it into the well water….it’s part of an ecosystem and that’s how ecosystem work. It;s also going to make it’s way through streams that break off the Animas and spill into nearby lakes.

It’s not like the EPA didn’t expect a blowout as a result of plugging up the entrance of another part of the mines.  They built a dirt dam to hold back water that would escape in the event of a blowout but it was essentially as useful act of prevention.  The blowout tore through the makeshift dirt dam and poured into the Animas River.

Let’s all understand the magnitude of this epic failure on the part of the EPA.  The Animas river is a 126 mile long river system that spills into the San Juan RIver (363 miles long) and is part of the Colorado River system.  The Animas River generates more than $5 million in income to the area from rafting and kayaking alone. It’s also a a source for freestone fisheries and is a popular fishing area populated with rainbows, browns, Colorado River cutthroat and brook trout. It is considered a gold medal fishery above Rivera Bridge Crossing in Colorado.

More importantly It’s a major source of water through irrigation for farming. The recently completed Durango Pumping Plant provides water for 57,100 acres of farmland in the Lake Nighthorse area. The Animas is also a water source for Native American’s with the river traveling through Ute and Navajo lands.

20150807_091215_animas-river-mapA freestone fishery is an area with slower moving water that while making it ideal for fishing, it’s also an ideal place for contaminated sediment to make it’s way into the banks of the river and along the river bed.  There are areas along the river where this contaminated sludge is already 1/2 inch thick.  Any future rainfall has the potential of stirring up this contaminated sediment creating future harm for months and years to come.

Initial test as to the amount of damage have already been done but the EPA is not releasing that information to the public at this point in time but EPA apologists are already spinning this to try and downplay the environmental impact.  One article reportedly compared the acidic content in the river to a cup of coffee.  That same cup of coffee however doesn’t have the same levels of of arsenic, lead and other heavy metal toxins.

The EPA had originally set out in a project to clean out old mines but met with understandable resistance from locals.  The EPA cited the areas history of mining as the reason for their desire to step in and begin exerting controls over areas of the land.  In the past, as miners dug into the mountain, they would sometimes strike water which would then flood the mines.  In 1978 an incident occurred where a mine had been dug beneath Lake Emma in the area and the Lake broke through flooding the mine.  No lives were lost in that disaster but it had stopped the mining efforts in that tunnel.  The water in these mines eventually works it’s way into the rivers and streams but it does so mostly through an underground system that allows for some form of limited filtration and hasn’t demonstrated a real environmental impact with fish and drinking water being safe….until now.  All that has changed now.

After establishing a superfund the EPA went in and took charge of the clean up.  The concerns of federal controls over local lands, that initially seemed a minor form of concern, has now become a reality placing the entire region at the mercy of the EPA.  Farmers, at this critical time of the year in the farming cycle are without irrigation water for their crops which, while locally devastating, will have national impact as well impacting food supply.  It’s likely to have an impact on fish in the area but what about wildlife and farm animals.  While the local residents have been told not to drink water from wells and bottled water is being brought in to meet water demands, animals are still going to be drinking this water and what impact it will have on them remains to be seen.  The streams that break off from the river are going to provide drinking water for these animals and only time will tell of the environmental impact of this disaster.

Native Americans are going to be seriously impacted by this disaster.  After years of fighting for water rights an agreement was made that allowed for the building of reservoir that was to be filled with water pumped out of the Animas River.  That’s not likely to happen anytime in the near future as a result of this action by the EPA.

The whole thing is sadly reminiscent of the Centralia debacle here in Pennsylvania but this appears to be on a much larger scale.  In 1962, after a fire was set to burn out a dump in Centralia, the fire spread to a mine where it continues to burn underground to this day decimating the entire area making it unsafe to live for any of the residents.  For almost 20 years the impact of Centralia was downplayed until an incident on Valentine’s Day in 1981 involving Todd Domboski, a seventh grader, drew attention to the depth of the damage.  Todd was walking across a neighbors field when the ground gave way and literally began to swallow him alive.  A friend helped rescue him.  Centralia is now a ghost town where steaming fissures break through the ground and roads are shattered and sinking as a result of the fire.

Pdr_1647Like Centralia, this could have been avoided.  The EPA seriously failed in its estimation of the amount of water and in the building of a dirt dam to try and stop the contaminated water from spreading.  EPA apologists are coming out of the woodwork and trying to spin this into some minor incident while major media outlets are virtually ignoring it.  All of that just makes me more concerned as to the depth of the damage and danger from this disaster.  The mere fact that the water has turned yellow along the Animas River and is this yellow color all the way into New Mexico is evidence enough of the the EPA’s underestimation of the amount of damage they’ve created and the potential impact to the area’s ecosystem.

For a government, whose primary concern is supposed to be the preservation and protection of our rights to life, liberty and property; this is a huge fail!

All too often in the past the damage to human lives and livelihood is just viewed as collateral damage by government and corporate interests.  When lives are lost or displaced by government interference and failure or corporate greed there seems to be far too little accountability to the people impacted by that failure.  In this case both have played a role and,as Ronald Reagan said, Government wasn’t the solution to the problem, it made the problem far worse.

The following articles in fair use compliance were used to write this commentary





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