Written by Micha Rosenoer, Southwest Field Organizer

The recent disaster on the Animas is news to no one at this point. Headlines across Colorado and national outlets have spread this recent development far and wide; the Animas turned orange, and that’s a big problem. That’s true — an abandoned mine leaking toxic chemicals into one of Southwest Colorado’s primary rivers, which sustains countless residents’ livelihoods, is a tremendous problem.

This is a tragedy. There’s no doubt about that. We’re all angry and profoundly saddened to see the lifeblood of Southwest Colorado spoiled. And the question on most of our minds is: how on earth was this allowed to happen?

So what actually happened?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was trying to clean up the Gold King Mine when a plug failed, which sent 3 million gallons of yellow toxic sludge into the Animas. Efforts at Gold King are one of many projects the EPA is undertaking to clean up the thousands of abandoned old mines that remain from Colorado’s mining legacy.

Yep, that’s right — there are thousands of mines like Gold King across our state, and many are like ticking time bombs. As anyone who has lived in Southwest Colorado for longer than a few years will tell you, the region is no stranger to mining-related catastrophes. This time around, the EPA’s hand happened to be on the shovel, but disasters like this one demonstrate the need to recognize our history of reckless exploitation.

What can we do to confront that history?

Quite a bit, actually. Here are some ways we can prevent future disasters, and how YOU can get involved:

  • Support efforts of local science-based groups conducting independent monitoring in conjunction with the EPA
  • Get involved — contact your elected representative and engage in public comment opportunities like town hall meetings and opportunities to speak with elected officials
  • Get involved with current and future BLM planning processes. Many of these plans  invite public input on where and how industry should be allowed to mine and drill within our communities. Strong standards and limitations for industry could prevent accidents like this one decades down the road.

Remind me again why we’ve been having to deal with such rampant pollution?

It’s because, in the late 19th century, westward expansion was largely about mining. People broke their backs to glean their wealth out of the ground in the form of gold, silver, or other metals. And they found that wealth in mineral-rich Southwest Colorado, which led to an explosion in mines in the area.

Here’s the big problem; many of these mines were established far before environmental protections were even a part of our country’s vocabulary. But they continued to provide welcome financial support to the area, so the mining industry continued until the 1990s. After a they ceased to be financially viable, those mines largely closed, but cleaning up their toxic sludge has fallen to the EPA, which leads us to our current situation.

Looking ahead

At this point, it is absolutely imperative that we work together to find solutions. The legacy of mining in the Southwest and across Colorado is a massive problem, but it’s a solvable one. We need to ensure that the mining industry is held accountable for the messes they make. They’ve been allowed to pass the buck for far, far too long.

One silver lining in this disaster is that it has brought worldwide attention to the sorry state of our mining legacy here in Colorado and the thousands of mines that pose similar unacceptable risks to our water, recreation, and wildlife. While the spill is awful, the Animas has struggled with water quality for decades thanks to runoff from mines like Gold King across the watershed.  It’s unfortunate that the river turning such an alarming shade was required to increase our sense of urgency on this issue, because conditions have been deplorable for a long time. Whenever it rains reasonably hard in Southwest Colorado, zinc and cadmium levels go up 100% on the Animas. This is not a hazard that we should be comfortable with in Colorado. So while it’s a shame that it took an incident of this magnitude to generate the appropriate alarm and urgency, perhaps we will see some real improvements as a result.

The best result from this disaster would be political will to take decisive action to clean the mines around Silverton and developing long term solutions for the hundreds of miles of Colorado rivers currently impacted by mine drainage.  Returning to the status quo of ignoring pre-spill contamination levels is not good enough for our town or the future of Colorado’s rivers.

For more detailed information on the spill and its roots, click herehere, and here.

Your Southwest Field Organizer,

Micha Rosenoer

Written by Sarah White

2014 has been a successful year for Conservation Colorado. From working with our elected officials to pass critical environmental legislation, to knocking doors to get out the vote, and organizing on college campuses, in Latino communities, and in cities all across the state, we’ve accomplished big things for Colorado.

It would be pretty hard to point out all of the things that we’re proud of, but we wanted to highlight the BIG ones. Here are our top 10 accomplishments of 2014.

10. We won a decade long battle

The ten year long battle to protect the Roan Plateau is finally over. The conservation community finally won the fight to keep the 54,000 acre Roan Plateau from becoming an industrial zone.

9. We had a year long party!

This year marked the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, and boy, did we celebrate. We held events across the state from July to November to raise awareness about the 3.6 million acres of Colorado’s most sublime wildlands that are set aside as wilderness areas.

8. We held industry accountable

In April we were thrilled to help pass legislation that will finally clean up groundwater contamination in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Canon City. After 30 years of pollution and indifference from Cotter Corporation, Coloradans living in its shadow were finally granted the right to clean water and use of their own water wells.

7. Introducing….Protégete!

This year, Conservation Colorado launched Protégete: Our Air, Our Health. It is an important and timely effort to engage the Latino community around the issues of clean air and climate change.

6. The EPA came to town & we responded with a day of action

This year we took a huge step toward addressing the challenge of climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed national safeguards that aim to cut carbon pollution, One of just four hearings across the country was held right here in Colorado! Our coalition rallied over 250 Coloradans to testify at the hearings and came out on top — an overwhelming majority of the testimonies showed support of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

5. 42 wins for conservation

It wasn’t easy, but after one of the toughest election seasons yet, the conservation community helped elect 42 pro-conservation candidates to the Colorado state legislature. With the help of our staff and volunteers, we knocked doors, made phone calls, created mail pieces, landed on people’s Facebook newsfeeds, and crafted radio ads to promote our conservation champions and help them to victory.

4. Colorado made history (in a good way)

Colorado sent a strong message to the nation in February – that every person deserves to breathe clean air. With your support, and after a year-long ground campaign, Colorado’s Air Quality Control Commission passed groundbreaking, first in the nation rules that directly regulate methane pollution from oil and gas facilities.

3. Huge steps for water

Up until now, we have been the only state in the west without a State Water Plan (yikes!). But that’s about to change. On December 10, the first draft of this groundbreaking plan was released — and it will be finalized in a year. This plan will address the “gap” between our available water supply and our demand and we have worked every step of the way to ensure that the Governor keeps his work and puts conservation first.

2. Hey, President Obama! This land needs protection

Conservation Colorado has worked with U.S. Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet for years to designate Browns Canyon as a national monument. This month, we brought this beautiful 22,000 acres of public lands around the Arkansas River to the forefront of President Obama’s attention and are optimistic that he will take the next step to finally protect Browns Canyon once and for all.

1. YOU

Conservation Colorado works hard to protect the land, air, and water of our beautiful state for YOU, our members. We are proud to have a growing membership of dedicated Coloradans who are willing to take action and support the work that will ensure clean air, healthy flowing waters, and protected lands for years to come. We do this work because we believe that it is your right to enjoy the outdoors as you see fit, without restrictions from out-of-state special interests and polluting industries. We do this work because of YOU.

We can’t do any of this without your support — please consider making a year end donation to Conservation Colorado.

Welcome to our new monthly feature by one of our West Slope Field Organizers, Petrika Peters. In this spot, she’ll feature local citizens’ groups that she is personally involved with, and that help Conservation Colorado’s grassroots efforts, in the Grand Junction area. Enjoy!

A newer, but nonetheless powerful and inspiring, group of concerned citizens in Mesa County is working to protect our air from harmful pollution. They dubbed themselves “Citizens for Clean Air” (CCA) and they are chock full of movers and shakers already making huge impacts for our Grand Valley air quality.

I have had the pleasure of working with this inspiring group for the past year and have seen first hand some of the amazing things they have accomplished in such a short time. Without CCA, Conservation Colorado would not have been able to accomplish much of what we have been pushing for, including landmark air quality rules that protect us from pollution or increased public awareness of the harms of oil and gas pollution.

These motivated citizens are working in innovative ways to make substantial positive change in our community; change that impacts all Coloradans, who, well, breathe. Anyone from the West Slope knows that nearly every winter in the Grand Valley, we are challenged by significant health consequences due to the cold air inversions that hold pollution in.

Protect our #COAir rally

Last year we experienced a record-breaking 11 days of national air quality standard violations due to high levels of particulates and other known pollutants such as nitrogen oxide (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) contained within the inversion. During this time, Mesa County issued “no-burn” announcements on 47 days, another record.

As a group, Citizens for Clean Air recognizes that our air problems are multi-faceted and require the “cleaning up” of many different pollutant sources. Vehicle emissions, agricultural burning, non-EPA certified wood-fired stoves, and industry emissions all contribute to our “brown cloud,” as well as a host of associated health and economic troubles. You see, bad air harms both our health and our quality of life – leading to increased school absences, sick days, medication use, and visits to doctors and emergency rooms; all of which have an economic and personal impact on our community.

Of late, CCA became increasingly concerned about the impact that oil and gas drilling has on our public health. Oil and gas operations spew horrible pollutants into our air.  The production, transportation, and processing life cycle of oil and gas is a major contributor to ground level ozone. Ozone causes a slew of health issues. Some of these include acute eye irritation, chest congestion, nausea, dizziness, and shortness of breath.

Air pollution is impacting our crops, the livelihood of farmers, and our tourist economy. The U.S. Department of Agriculture states that, “ground-level ozone causes more damage to plants than all other air pollutants combined.” Ozone levels are already at a level that causes some loss of crop production. Colorado farmers are already enduring a severe drought; reduced harvests due to poor air quality only worsen their diminishing bottom line.

Let’s face it–who wants to visit a valley known for its haze? In order to cultivate our quality of life and sustain our economy, Conservation Colorado and CCA recognize that we MUST fix our air quality problems.

That’s why CCA is a formal party to the recent Air Quality Control Commission’s (AQCC) rule-making to improve safeguards from oil and gas pollution. The new AQCC protections will have a real impact our local air quality. While oil and gas emissions are not the sole contributor to our brown cloud, there are over 1,000 wells in Mesa County and more on the horizon if the proposed FRAM Whitewater project goes through.

I continue to be inspired by the motivation and active participation of this group of committed citizens. As CCA strives to solve this multi-faceted problem, we know one thing for sure–the Grand Valley simply can’t handle any more air pollution from any source.

This year’s brown cloud settled over the valley in December and despite the constant reminder, inspiration is urgently needed to get local governments and residents to act to improve our air quality.

To learn more or join the efforts of CCA contact Karen Sjoberg at 970-628-4699 or mmagency1@mindspring.com

Your Field Organizer,

Petrika

Written by Sarah White

On January 1st, 2013, following a combined 60 year history of fighting for our spectacular environment, Colorado Environmental Coalition and Colorado Conservation Voters merged to create Conservation Colorado. Since then, we have hired 9 new staff members, opened a new field office in Durango, and engaged our 16,000 members to take 7,220 actions!

What else have we done? The list goes on, but we picked out 7 notable achievements that we couldn’t have reached without your support.

1) New Faces

We didn’t just hire anyone, we hired the best of the best to inject new energy to the endless tasks we take on to fight for Colorado’s future. Combining old and new has proven to be effective as we saw numerous bills we supported become law this year and took on new campaigns to protect Colorado’s land, air, water, and people. Plus, they certainly made Halloween fun:

2) That Good ‘Ole Rocky Mountain Air

Greenhouse-gas-causing methane harms Coloradans and adds to climate change. Don’t believe us? Just look at the stories we collected on Facebook of Coloradans living with oil and gas operations in their backyards. Basically, it’s a big – huge – deal that Colorado will be the first state to make oil and gas operators capture methane and other harmful pollutants. And, it’s all because of you.

3) Record-breaking events

Turns out our volunteers and members think we put on quite the party – so much so that we had record breaking attendance at almost all of our events this year. From our annual Rebel With A Cause Gala to our Save The Ales beer tasting event, Coloradans came out to support what they love: our state. In addition, we hosted the Beyond The Bones hiking series in Northwest Colorado, the ClimateFest concert in Denver, West Slope Harvest Celebration in Palisade, and the Save The Last Dance book tour all around Colorado.

4) Hey-O Durango!

We started out with offices in Denver, Grand Junction, and Craig, but soon realized that 3 wasn’t enough. So we did something crazy – we started an office in Durango! Our Southwest Organizer, Emily, was welcomed with open arms and plenty of things to start organizing around.

5) Local Grassroots Organizing Pairs Well With National Legislation

Wait a second, Colorado’s wildlife habitats and wilderness areas are being talked about on a national level? That doesn’t happen every year. Both the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act and Browns Canyon National Monument and Wilderness Act have widespread support from the communities, local businesses, and elected officials.  We couldn’t be more excited to see the progress these bills have made and to support the Colorado lawmakers who are working to protect them for future generations.

6) Water Planning

It’s one of those things that seems boring and wonky, but necessary. Yet, as Theresa showed us in her popular blog series, Drought Days, water is anything but. From our extreme summer drought to our extreme September floods, water proved more than ever just how vital it is to Colorado. This past year, we joined together with coalition partners to pass a reusable water bill and encouraged Governor Hickenlooper to clean up Colorado’s water – because water is anything but boring. Still don’t believe us? Just watch Colorado Rising, a short film featuring a family’s story about the High Park Fire of 2012:

7) 252 – woot woot!

252 may just be a number to you, but it’s a reason to celebrate for us. We fought hard during the legislative session for common sense safeguards against oil and gas pollution, but their multi-million dollar lobbying efforts pushed us back. However, we won big with Senate Bill 252, which increases access to wind and solar energy across ALL of Colorado. It became law this summer and Colorado will now get cleaner, sustainable energy…and jobs to go along with it.

We can’t put it all in one blog post, but simply put, we have had a good first year. We’re proud of this state and you should be too. But with our first birthday coming up on January 1st, we realize that there’s always more work to be done to protect the state that we love for future generations.

That’s where you come in – we have asked you to make calls, write emails, send in letters, and follow us on social media. And, you have done it all. We couldn’t achieve any successes without you and we definitely couldn’t have accomplished as much as we did without your passion for Colorado. When thinking about who you want to give to this Colorado Gives Day, invest in a sure thing, invest in us and other members and volunteers like you who have made it clear to rest of our state that Colorado’s conservation voice deserves to be heard.

Written by Sarah White

Earth Day is upon us today and we’re excited! We focus a lot of our efforts on the long-term conservation of Colorado’s beautiful lands and clean air. But today we celebrate what we can do right now help our environment.

These steps are simple, but they add up to create a massive impact on climate change in our state every single day. Now, we know you have been told to do some of these things before, but Earth Day is a day to remind ourselves that these steps are more important now than ever before.

1. Let’s start with the obvious: reduce, reuse, recycle:

Did you know that there’s an island in the Pacific Ocean that is the size of Texas and is completely made up of trash? Although we have made great progress, far too much of our everyday lives ends up harming our air, land, and water. We can all do our part by reducing what we consume, try and reuse as much as possible, and recycle the rest.  Every little bit helps reduce the amount of new, harmful chemicals that are introduced into the environment, helps us use energy more efficiently, and minimizes the land our landfills need.

2. Help preserve our water supply by conserving your water:

April snow has made us hopeful for a good snowpack this year, but years of drought have depleted Colorado’s reservoirs to the point where it’s going to take many years of above-average snowfall to bring them back to normal. So, how can you help? From your sink to your lawn, conserve your water usage.

3. Walk, ride your bike, use our great transportation system:

We all know that climate change is the problem of our age but want can an individual do?  The car you drive and how you choose to get around can have a huge impact on your energy consumption. Better yet, get out and enjoy our great Colorado weather;  ride your bike, walk, or take public transportation to help you get where you need to go.

4. Go outside this Earth Day:

No, seriously, go outside. How will that help? We hope the more time you spend exploring our beautiful state, the more passionate you’ll become about preserving it for future generations. Check out some of the areas we are working to protect. But remember, take only pictures and leave only footprints.

5. Get involved with your elected officials:

Final self plug: we have made this step easy for you; Take an Action. Tell your local legislators why you are concerned and what they can do to get your support. Our vast landscapes, wildlife, rivers, and our tremendous outdoor opportunities help define our beautiful state. Any day a lawmaker hears from a constituent is a day that he or she must think a little longer about the impacts that his or her decisions have.  Check out our latest Actions and send your elected official a message that you care about protecting Colorado!