How Idaho Could Learn From The Animas River Disaster

Aug 20, 2015

The accidental release of toxins into the Animas River in Colorado is a reminder of the long-term effects of mining. The decades-old gold mine had been dormant, but the toxins from the operation breached a dam there on the Environmental Protection Agency's watch.

Water treatment operation at the Atlanta Gold site in Idaho.
Credit John Robison / Idaho Conservation League

Environmentalists around the West are pointing to the disaster, saying what happened in Colorado could happen in other states — including Idaho.

The discovery of gold in the 1860s helped establish the Idaho Territory, and the mining industry continues to play a role in the state's economy. But according to John Robison with the Idaho Conservation League, the history is also full of environmental disasters.

"Idaho has already experienced enough mine disasters for folks to realize that the current way mining is managed isn't working," says Robison. "The tragedy in the Animas only highlights this concern."

He says the 1997 contamination of the middle fork of the Boise River is a prime example. Arsenic flowed into the water from the Atlanta Gold mine site. Robison says there's a treatment plant there now, but there's a new threat as well.

"The mining company plans on plugging the tunnel with a concrete dam and walking away. We're concerned that water will simply build up in the gallery of tunnels and will spill out elsewhere without being treated."

Robison says laws need to be reformed to make sure accidents like the one in Colorado don’t happen in Idaho.

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