SILVERTON, Colorado – It will take many years and many millions of dollars simply to manage and not even remove the toxic wastewater from an abandoned mine that unleashed a 100-mile-long torrent of heavy metals into Western rivers, experts say.
Plugging Colorado’s Gold King Mine could simply lead to an eventual explosion of poisonous water elsewhere, so the safest solution, they say, would be to install a treatment plant that would indefinitely clean the water from Gold King and three other nearby mines. It would cost millions of dollars, and do nothing to contain the thousands of other toxic streams that are a permanent legacy of mining across the nation.
Federal authorities first suggested a treatment plant for Gold King more than a decade ago, but local officials and owners of a nearby mine were reluctant to embrace a federally sponsored cleanup.
“They have been not pursuing the obvious solution,” said Rob Robinson, a retired abandoned-mines cleanup coordinator for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. “My hope is this has embarrassed the hell out of them and they’re going to finally take it seriously.”