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Upper Animas River named top priority for cleanup
Bonita Peak Mining District makes list of highest priority Superfund sites
December 8, 2017 (Durango, Colo.) The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today that it would include the site of 2015 Gold King mine spill, plus 47 other mine sites in the upper Animas River basin, to its “Top 21” priorities for cleanup under the Superfund program, a program responsible for cleaning up some of the nations most contaminated lands and waters.
The area was designated a Superfund site in 2016 to address the spill and ongoing pollution caused by historic hard rock mines. The mines leach heavy metals into the upper Animas watershed degrading water quality and trout habitat for miles downstream.
The Animas River communities and Trout Unlimited have long-advocated to prioritize the cleanup of areas in the upper Animas River basin and were very pleased that the EPA agrees, said Ty Churchwell, San Juan Mountains Coordinator for Trout Unlimited. Cleanup of abandoned mines is critically important across the country as toxic metals leach into our rivers and streams, degrading habitat, drinking water and recreational opportunities and economies. This announcement is great news for anglers, river recreation and the health of the river and communities up and down the Animas River.”
The Superfund designation in the Animas basin covers the 48 major polluting mines in the headwaters of the Animas River watershed including the Gold King mine which drew international attention when it spilled mine waste into the Animas River in 2015.
There are more than 1,600 sites on the EPA’s Superfund National Priorities List, but funding and resources are not sufficient to address each and every site. With this in mind, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt stated earlier this year that his Superfund Taskforce would prioritize sites for immediate action. The announcement today includes the Animas as a top priority.
“The Animas River is a world class trout fishery near Durango, but it struggles to cope with the constant and decades-long impact of legacy mining upstream near Silverton. Additionally, the Animas River is the lifeblood of our recreation and tourism-based economies in Silverton and Durango. This prioritization of the Animas by the EPA is promising, but we still have a long way to go,” Churchwell said.
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