Best Wild Places: Exploring the Alpine Triangle (Day Three)

Field & Stream

I learned a very important lesson at the start of our third day in the Alpine Triangle:  We don’t have to move mountains to help trout streams recover from the effects of hard rock mining.

Moving west from Lake City toward the town of Ouray, we stopped along Henson Creek, where Tara Tafi, project manager and reclamation specialist for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, showed us around the Henson Creek Repository project.

Here’s a little “mine influence on trout water” primer:  Many of the mines left behind tailing piles. Those tailing piles contain a number of things that are harmful to the river (acids, heavy metals, etc.)  As the rains and snows fall over the tailings, the runoff mixes into the river, lowering pH levels (2-4).  In low pH, metals are easily mobilized.  When this happens, trout and the bugs they eat can’t survive in an essentially sterile environment.  And this can last for generations.

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