Monday, August 10, 2015
A Killing Offense
The story goes that in the wild west killing wasn't a killing offense, but recreation. Only two things a man could be hung for were stealing a man's horse or his water. Both were cruel methods of killing someone. You have to live here to understand that. And you know you will never move when you totally understand it.
Horses are not as important any more. We have roads and cars and conveniences closer to us than when the Camino Real was the only road and all else were horse paths. But water is still very precious and very necessary. People still get killed over stealing water but the bodies are better hidden. Poisoning water may be even worse than stealing it. You cannot steal it back. Poisoning it has made it useless for everyone including the livestock and the land and the wild creatures.
So the recent news of the toxic spill from the Silverton Gold Mine into the Animas River is to us westerners worse than a madman in Aurora killing people in a movie theater. And yet the national news seems to be unimpressed. Or are they being paid to down play it? By Mississippi standards the Animas River is small but it is part of a major watershed which includes the San Juan and Colorado Rivers, and the states of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. The waters in that watershed are used for irrigation, livestock, drinking water, fishing, and recreation.
The Animas River, mentioned constantly in the news, begins in Colorado (about the middle of that square), crosses into New Mexico where it enters the San Juan River. The San Juan goes through the four corners area and enters Utah before joining with the Colorado River at Lake Powell. They claim the toxic chemicals in the spill will be diluted as it moves down stream. But for now nobody should drink the water, irrigate with the water, water livestock (like they are in pens where they can be kept from the water?). No swimming, boating or fishing.
New Mexico has a system of acequias or ditches used to irrigate the fields. It is the hottest part of the growing season and yet they will not be used while the water is still orange. It is unclear if the spill has even been stopped. Just today the estimate of toxic liquid dumped into the San Juan River Watershed has been tripled. It was announced that Navajo Lake, upstream from where the Animas enters the San Juan, is releasing water to help dilute the spill.
If no people die, no livestock thirst to death, no crops are infused with toxic chemicals there is still the fish die off. And say fishery experts the killing of all insects and micro organisms in the water producing a sterile river which cannot support restocked fish.
Mining was rampant in the west in the 1800 and 1900's. Regulations on mining were nil. In fact to support the settling of the west and the needs of the east you could file a mine claim for $50. Records on all these mines are few. And mine owners had no rules about filing plots of their shafts and adits. And clean up of the mine when "closed" was never required. Open shafts collect rain water and perk away under ground leeching out toxic chemicals. More of a problem since California began sending us acid rain. There are likely thousands of these little toxic time bombs to be accidentally released especially if you add fracking into the equation.
The good news for Colorado River Compact states is once it gets into Lake Powell only Nevada, California, Phoenix, and Mexico get to use the water. I think the old wild west was right. It isn't nice to mess with water.