‘Good Samaritans’ may clean damaged rivers | VailDaily.com

‘Good Samaritans’ may clean damaged rivers

Dale Rodebaugh

DURANGO – Groups with a stake in the health of the Animas River are betting that a new approach to cleaning up abandoned mines has a chance – where others have failed – of reducing acidic waste draining into the Animas and its tributaries.A bill introduced last week in the U.S. House by Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa, would create a demonstration “Good Samaritan” project limited to the Animas River watershed.Salazar’s bill has a 10-year sunset clause – language that shields public and private parties involved in cleanup from liability, with no requirement to amend the Clean Water Act, according to Bill Simon, coordinator of the Animas River Stakeholders.The Animas River Stakeholders would be a Samaritan under Salazar’s bill, which focuses on mines for which there are no known owners or operators to shoulder responsibility for cleanup, Simon said. The group would look to member organizations, mining companies, the federal government and others to pay for cleanup.”It makes a lot of sense,” Simon said Friday. “We all agree that we need a Good Samaritan cleanup program, so I think that if we get attention from the right people we have a good chance.”Supporters hope the Salazar bill will set an example for what can be done to clean up thousands of mines, most of them abandoned, in the West.The Animas group has hung a high-priority label on 33 draining mines in the upper Animas River watershed, said Peter Butler, a member of Animas River Stakeholders and former board member of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission.The stakeholders have sampled water in 175 mines in the upper Animas watershed, Butler said. Ninety percent of pollutants come from the 33 mines. Overall, there are some 1,500 old mines across the watershed, he said.”If we can do what we want to do, we can bring the Animas River up to Clean Water Act aquatic-life standards,” Simon said. Acidic mine waste carries high concentrations of such dissolved metals as arsenic, zinc, cadmium, copper, selenium and lead. Polluted water can seep from a mine itself or from tailings.Authorities are still monitoring the cleanup by a mine owner of the Eagle River. The cleanup is finished but conservation groups persuaded the state to continue testing water quality and the health of fish and other aquatic life. This story came from the Durango Herald via the Associated Press. Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado

Support Local Journalism