Animas River catastrophe a call to action on mine pollution

Photo courtesy NBC News Aug. 7, 2015

For Immediate Release

Contact: Steve Kandell,, (970) 946-5801

Ty Churchwell,,

Jason Willis,, (719) 221-0411


Animas River catastrophe a ‘wake-up call’ on mine pollution

Trout Unlimited, stakeholders call for solution

(DURANGO)—Trout Unlimited today called for urgent action to clean up the scourge of abandoned hardrock mines, in the wake of a catastrophic spill of some 1 million gallons of toxic abandoned mine runoff into a tributary of the Animas River above Durango, Colorado.

An orange plume containing high sediment levels and toxic heavy metals coursed down the Animas through Durango on Thursday and moved toward the New Mexico state line. The spill could threaten the health of valuable fisheries and wildlife habitat in the Animas basin. State wildlife officials are currently testing the fishery to gauge impacts.

“This toxic spill into the Animas is a shocking incident that underscores how vulnerable our rivers, streams and fisheries are to abandoned hardrock mine pollution,” said Steve Kandell, director of TU’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project. “Trout Unlimited will be monitoring the situation in coming days to assess the impact to our waters and world-class trout fishery in the Animas River. Needless to say, the health of our local community and recreation-based economy depends heavily on water quality. This is a wake-up call to Coloradans and the nation on the need to find solutions to abandoned mines.”

There are an estimated 500,000 abandoned hardrock mines, 23,000 in Colorado alone, are affecting some 40 percent of headwaters in the West. Hundreds of these mine sites dot the San Juan Mountains area, many oozing a mixture of toxic heavy metals, and low pH that devastate aquatic life.

For years, Trout Unlimited and other so-called groups have been working voluntarily to clean up these mine sites. Trout Unlimited is actively working with industry, agriculture, elected officials, the Animas River Stakeholders Group and others to find a policy solution that provides more incentives and support for cleaning up these toxic mine sites. This solution needs to reduce the likelihood of a catastrophic event of this magnitude from happening again. To learn more about the abandoned mine problem and how to take action, go to

“Abandoned mines are a cancer threatening the health of rivers and streams in southwest Colorado and many other areas of the West,” said Ty Churchwell, Colorado backcountry coordinator for Trout Unlimited. “If we do nothing, we’re inviting more catastrophes like the Animas spill. It’s time for action.”


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Trout Unlimited is a non-profit organization with 147,000 members nationwide dedicated to conserving, protecting and restoring North America’s coldwater fisheries and their watersheds.