On the morning of August 5, 2015, Environmental Protection Agency workers breached an earthen dam in the Gold King Mine above Silverton, Colorado, releasing some 3 million gallons of water, along with an electric-orange spooge, that ultimately ended up in the Animas River, turning it the same orange color for miles downstream.
I was in Durango at the time, sitting in my home about a mile from the Animas River. My first thought was, “Oh sh*t!” The river had always been an integral part of my life, like an umbilical cord connecting me not only to this place I call home, but also to my ancestors, who first settled on the river’s banks in 1874. The river gives life to crops and communities, serves as a playground for hundreds and holds great spiritual significance, particularly to the Navajos who live along the San Juan River, into which the Animas runs. For all of us, this despoiling of the waters was heartbreaking.
My second thought was: This has happened before, over and over again. We — the Anglo settlers that first flooded the region in the 1870s — have long abused these waters, which served as toxic waste dump, garbage can and sewer for industry and residents alike for decades. And even before that fateful August day, mines above Silverton were spewing hundreds of millions of gallons of acid mine drainage into the watershed each year, a sort of perpetual Gold King spill. In fact, the history of this region is the history of pollution, particularly of the waters that are so scarce, and that are becoming scarcer.
I am currently chronicling that history for a book, whose working title is: “River of Lost Souls: A history of the sacred and sacrificial waters of the Animas Watershed.” It will be published by Torrey House Press in spring 2018. I will be updating my progress here at this site from time to time, as well as meandering off on various tangents related to the river and the region. I hope you’ll join me.