By Elizabeth Russell Trout Unlimited is excited to announce Newmont Mining Corporation as a new and vital supporter of our Colorado Abandoned Mine Restoration Program. These historic mines and their legacy of toxic sediments and draining tunnels pose one of the most widespread—yet least addressed—threats to Western rivers and watersheds. By most estimates, more than 500,000 abandoned mines pollute 40 percent of headwater streams in the Western United States, and degrade over 14,000 miles of trout and salmon habitat.
The estimated costs to clean up these sites range from $32-72 billion. Trout Unlimited initiated our Western Abandoned Hard Rock Mine Restoration Program in 2004 to both clean up problem mine sites that impact streams and fisheries, and to draw attention to the challenges associated with these efforts. From our innovative mine tailings revegetation projects addressing toxic mine tailings in Colorado to our successful floodplain restoration projects in Montana, Trout Unlimited has earned national recognition as the leading practitioner of Good Samaritan abandoned mine restoration in the country.
In Colorado, the problem of leaching mines is particularly prevalent and threatens the state’s most iconic rivers. The issue of water pollution stemming from abandoned mines burst into public consciousness when 3 million gallons of polluted heavy metal-laden water spilled into the Animas River from the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado, in 2015. Although this spill was large-scale and devastating, thousands of similar mines leak that same orange polluted water in smaller amounts every minute of every day. Without cleanup action at each site, this will continue forever.
That’s where Trout Unlimited comes in. Our Colorado Abandoned Mine Restoration Program tackles cleanups by removing polluted waste and tailings from riparian areas, revegetating and stabilizing streambanks and natural stream channels, creating fish habitat, and improving water quality.
We are stopping the toxic legacy one watershed or river at a time.
It’s encouraging that some mining companies are stepping up to help address this problem. Newmont Mining Corporation is one of the largest mining companies in the world and owns the Cripple Creek and Victor Mine in Colorado.
Newmont has worked previously with Trout Unlimited and state and federal agencies to improve habitat for Lahontan Cutthroat Trout (LCT) in Nevada’s Maggie Creek basin. Changes in livestock grazing practices and other improvements in the Maggie Creek watershed have dramatically boosted stream and riparian habitat health throughout the basin, benefiting LCT populations.
“Newmont has recently expanded our North American operations into Colorado with the acquisition of the Cripple Creek and Victor mine,” said Newmont executive Steve Skidmore. “We look forward to our continued habitat restoration efforts in cooperation with Trout Unlimited in Colorado watersheds.”
Newmont Mining Corporation joins Freeport-McMoRan Inc., which owns the Henderson and Climax mines in the state, in supporting our program to improve water quality and fisheries in mining-impacted watersheds in Colorado. Giving back to the communities in which these companies operate is an important part of their commitment to the environment.
For TU, their support provides the critical funding needed to support our staff and project work. We look forward to showcasing our excellent cleanup projects in the near future.
Elizabeth Russell is manager of TU’s Colorado Abandoned Mine Restoration Program.