The 19th century mining boom across the West was a bust for many of our rivers and streams. Colorado alone has more than 7,000 abandoned mine sites, many of them leaching toxic metals into nearby watersheds—and these damaged streams represent more than a century of lost fishing opportunities. It gets worse. In many cases, Good Samaritans like Trout Unlimited, eager to undertake mine cleanup projects, can’t get started—ironically, because of a Clean Water Act provision that says groups who voluntarily clean up a toxic dump could be liable if the treated water doesn’t meet CWA standards.
No good deed goes unpunished, right? That unfortunate Catch-22 has stopped scores of cleanup efforts dead in their tracks, in Colorado and across the West.
That’s why this big news out of D.C. is cause for celebration: The EPA this week issued new guidelines for abandoned mine cleanup agreements that largely eliminate the legal exposure of Good Sam groups.
This is a huge victory for Colorado streams.
“True Good Samaritans can feel comfortable pursuing cleanups and partnerships with EPA knowing they won’t be responsible for pollution when they get done,” said Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, who showed great leadership in pushing EPA to change the guidelines.
“We’re thrilled--this is a major breakthrough,” said Elizabeth Russell, mine restoration project manager for TU. “This is the single most important issue in the state as far as addressing mine pollution.
“These projects will have huge benefits forColorado’s water quality and fish habitat,” said Russell. “And that will improve the fishing for future generations of anglers.”