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[On Aug. 5, a crew tasked by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to investigate a leak at a defunct mine near Silverton, Colorado, sent millions of gallons of toxic tailings into the Animas. The accident that turned the river into a mustard-colored media spectacle went on to cause three states and the Navajo Nation to declare states of emergency. Last Friday, recreation bans were lifted in the Durango area. And Andy McKinley, of Duranglers Flies and Supplies, returned to his home river and went fishing. Mining pollution in this particular watershed, he says, is like the arrival of pale morning duns every summer—not a big surprise. —ed.]

One thing that a lot of people don’t understand about the Animas River is that mining pollution is not a new issue. The spill was not a disaster waiting to happen, it was a disaster that was already happening. The Gold King mine has been leeching toxic gunk and heavy metals into the Animas River watershed for the past decade. Mining pollution in general has affected the quality of the Animas river fishery for more than 100 years. The Gold King mine is not the only culprit.

animascloseWhile as a business, Duranglers has not seen a toxic plume of this magnitude in the past 32 years; we have still seen them. With rain, runoff, and earth movement these mines flush their bowels from time to time. In 1975 there was a mine tailings pile spill that killed almost every fish in the river within 24 hours. With this recent spill, we have not seen any kind of fish kill as of yet. We have caught lots of healthy (for now) trout in the past few days, and the Mountain Studies Institute is providing updated info about the invertebrates in the river. As of right now, bug life is still flourishing.

Well, it is flourishing as good as it ever has been, which isn’t as good as it should be.

This spill has certainly brought the national focus and spotlight on southwestern Colorado. Hopefully it will bring attention to our hard rock mine problem in the West. There are about 22,000 mines in Colorado alone, and many of them are full of toxic water that is currently leeching toward downstream users. How many more of these are just waiting to burst open is anyone’s guess.

We have gotten a lot of comments lately about how the EPA needs to be held accountable for this event. While we think there were some pretty massive mistakes made by the EPA, people need to realize that they were the only ones with the ability to attempt such a feat as cleaning up the mining pollution in Silverton. That is what they were trying to do: clean up our degrading watershed. We are no government apologists, but these mines were left by the mining companies long ago. Many of these mines have been totally abandoned with their owners no longer alive, or too poor to even begin thinking about a cleanup effort. Mine pollution mitigation is also heavily regulated and most people don’t have the ability or the legal ground to attempt it.

The long term effects have yet to be seen of course. However, we are hoping that awareness has been brought to this longstanding issue and steps will be taken to clean up these problem mines. Not just as a business, but as anglers who love to flyfish, one of us is usually fishing the Animas on any given day. If the mining pollution is cleaned up and the water quality improved, we truly believe that the Animas could be one of the best, if not the best, big trout rivers in Colorado. The brown trout of the Animas are legendary already.

This is an issue near and dear to our hearts and we are hoping for the best in the long run. It is our homewater after all.

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Tom Bie is the founder, editor, and publisher of The Drake. He started the magazine in 1998 as an annual newsprint publication based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He then moved it to Steamboat, Colorado (1999), Boulder, Colorado (2001), and San Clemente, California (2004), as he took jobs as managing editor at Paddler, Senior Editor at Skiing, and Editor-in-Chief at Powder, respectively. Tom and The Drake are now both based in Denver, Colorado, where The Drake is finally all grows up(Swingers, 1996) to a quarterly magazine.

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