Whether you think about it every day or once in a blue moon, mining significantly impacted Colorado’s past — and continues to influence the present and our future.
Mining operations helped build Colorado’s economy — and many of our towns’ names reflects this relationship: consider Leadville, Silver Cliff, Telluride, Eldora, or Goldfield. While it’s important to celebrate our shared history, it’s vital to recognize that the environment surrounding these communities still bear the scars demonstrating its ungilded past.
Consider the decaying and decrepit structures, dangerous tailing piles, and toxic pollution that impact our waterways. Though the mining fueled the state’s economy, it came at significant costs that still affect Colorado communities and our environment. It’s time we stop living in the past and implement legislation that reforms how the state approaches modern mining activities. Luckily, our legislators are one step ahead of us.
On its way to Governor Polis’ desk, HB 19-1113 — Protect Waters From Adverse Mining Impacts aims to address the lingering problems descended from mining operations and pollution. HB 19-1113’s directive is clear: to protect the health and safety of Coloradans by making sure that water quality impacts are accounted for and long-term impacts are avoided in the mining process.
For senate sponsor Kerry Donovan, preserving the health of our rivers is a central aspect of how we must address Colorado’s ongoing mining operations to preserve the natural resources “that all Coloradans depend on – like water.”
We all remember the Gold King Mine spill in 2015. An estimated 3 million gallons of toxic sludge poured into the Animas River, turning its water into an unseemly orange, and contaminating water sources across the West. Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated situation: Colorado has more than 23,000 inactive or abandoned mine sites leaching toxins and polluting more than 1,800 river miles. “Water quality statewide is suffering from pollution,” reflected Rep. Barbara McLachlan, one of the House sponsors of HB-1113, four years after the Gold King Mine spill.
In many cases, the companies who made their riches from mining our state’s minerals are no longer around to pay the clean up costs. Take the Summitville Mine in the San Luis Valley. Taxpayers ended up footing a bill worth over $21 million to cover the bankrupt company’s costs.
This isn’t an isolated incident, either. There are over two dozen mines that need similar treatments — and require similar clean up costs — in Colorado.
For Representative Dylan Roberts, another sponsor of the bill, the next step to clean up our rivers is clear: to implement better practices to make sure the long-term impacts from mining are not impacting our water quality.
Once signed into law, HB-1113 will change three aspects of the current process:
- The industry can no longer rely on self-bonding: Self-bonding, a practice that allows a mine operator to offer financial proof of resources to cover clean up costs instead of providing the resources upfront, most often forces taxpayers to pay out when companies encounter financial strife or bankruptcy. Currently, Colorado is one of only seven states that allow this practice, signalling to Coloradans members that it’s time to change the way the mining industry operates.
- Taxpayers won’t have to foot the bill to clean up operators’ messes: The current law only requires land remediation, not water, to be factored into the size of the bond. Thanks to this bill, operators will be held accountable and required to provide financial evidence they can afford clean up costs and not pass along to taxpayers.
- Mining operators can’t rely on perpetual pollution as their Plan A: Industry operators must set a “reasonable” end date for their clean up efforts. Though the law will not require operators to set a specific date, they must estimate a time frame to complete clean up efforts — helping to avoid perpetually polluting mines like Summitville.
Voices of Support
HB-1113 protects more than just our waters: it protects every living thing that relies on healthy rivers, including Colorado’s natural ecosystem and wildlife species. Testifying about the importance of the mining bill, avid sportsmen and Conservation Colorado member Tom McNamara spoke of how clean water supports the ecosystems that Colorado wildlife and citizens rely on:
“This legislation puts forward common sense reforms that protect the taxpayers AND our ecosystems, while not affecting current producers and allowing future mines to operate. HB1113 will preserve Colorado’s mining legacy, while working to better safeguard and support today’s outdoor recreation economy.”
For Mark Waltermire, the owner and operator of Thistle Whistle Farm in Hotchkiss and board member of the Valley Organic Growers Association, HB-1113 is “a good step forward” to ensuring that farmers have the access they need to clean water, which is essential to the success of Colorado’s farms and businesses. The bill will help “take the financial burden of clean up off of our collective shoulders and puts it on those responsible” — the mining companies.
Bennett Boeschenstein, the mayor pro-tem of Grand Junction and city council member, recognizes the importance of water quality on Coloradans’ drinking water and local industries like agriculture, outdoor recreation and tourism. “Our farmers ranchers recreation and tourism industry and our citizens depend on having healthy rivers and streams,” he recently testified.
After years of testimonies, hearings, and meetings, a bill that protects our rivers from the adverse effects of mining is finally becoming law. This bill wouldn’t have passed without bipartisan compromise and grassroots support — a lot of which came from YOU, our members!