As most have heard on the news lately, there was an immense incident with the EPA and acid mine drainage into the Animas River from Hold King Mine near Silverton, Colorado. There has been confirmation that the mine drainage has reached Utah and is headed for Lake Powell, which is sourced by the Colorado River. This is a significant environmental issue for a variety of reasons, and we know this because acid mine drainage has been studied by numerous scientists, and its affect on aquatic ecosystems have been documented.
Acid mine drainage is a created by a high concentration of waste due to mines that contain dissolved metals reacting with atmospheric oxygen, which was studied by Blowes and his team in 2003. When metals react with oxygen, ferric acid is produced. This chemical creates acidic drainage, which then leaks into pristine streams surrounding the mine and impacts macroinvertebrates. Many organisms are known to be delicate to a change in pH, which can result in mortality if there is a sufficient change. Depending on the concentration, mine drainage does not always create a defined change in pH
Numerous studies in Colorado have shown that macroinvertebrate densities and vegetation decrease significantly in streams below a mine site as compared to streams above a mine site.
The problem with the Gold King Mine’s discharge is that is a concentrated toxic body of water that was released at a very high rate. The acidic waste will likely kill macroinverebrates as well as larger organisms including fish. Communities living within the region are at risk – they can’t bathe or recreate in the waters and can’t drink the water
The discharge rate is at such a high number as compared to studies done in other locations in Colorado, that what may be the result is scary. Therefore, not only will macroinvertebrates be affected, but also so will larger organisms, such as fish. Not only does it affect the organisms within the stream, but it also affects surrounding communities as it is toxic to drink, bathe in, or recreate in. this can cause commercial declines in cities and towns that base their economy off tourism. It would also increase spending, as they have to import quality water for domestic use.
On a global scale, it also affects the ocean! All rivers drain into the ocean- but can the mine drainage subside by the time it reaches the ocean?