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New perspectives on a 140-year legacy of mining and abandoned mine cleanup in the San Juan Mountains, Colorado

June 20, 2016

The Gold King mine water release that occurred on 5 August 2015 near the historical mining community of Silverton, Colorado, highlights the environmental legacy that abandoned mines have on the environment. During reclamation efforts, a breach of collapsed workings at the Gold King mine sent 3 million gallons of acidic and metal-rich mine water into the upper Animas River, a tributary to the Colorado River basin. The Gold King mine is located in the scenic, western San Juan Mountains, a region renowned for its volcano-tectonic and gold-silver-base metal mineralization history. Prior to mining, acidic drainage from hydrothermally altered areas was a major source of metals and acidity to streams, and it continues to be so. In addition to abandoned hard rock metal mines, uranium mine waste poses a long-term storage and immobilization challenge in this area. Uranium resources are mined in the Colorado Plateau, which borders the San Juan Mountains on the west. Uranium processing and repository sites along the Animas River near Durango, Colorado, are a prime example of how the legacy of mining must be managed for the health and well-being of future generations. The San Juan Mountains are part of a geoenvironmental nexus where geology, mining, agriculture, recreation, and community issues converge. This trip will explore the geology, mining, and mine cleanup history in which a community-driven, watershed-based stakeholder process is an integral part. Research tools and historical data useful for understanding complex watersheds impacted by natural sources of metals and acidity overprinted by mining will also be discussed.

Publication Year 2016
Title New perspectives on a 140-year legacy of mining and abandoned mine cleanup in the San Juan Mountains, Colorado
DOI 10.1130/2016.0044(16)
Authors Douglas B. Yager, David L. Fey, Thomas Chapin, Raymond H. Johnson
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Field Guides
Index ID 70173931
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Central Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center