A Week Since The EPA Spill, Coloradans Look Back On How It Happened
TESS VIGELAND, HOST:
It's been more than a week since 3 million gallons of wastewater poured from an old gold mine into Colorado's Animas River. The EPA says it takes full responsibility for that leak, which turned the river a nasty mustard color with a plume of waste that included lead and mercury. The waste flowed down stream through Utah, New Mexico and the Navajo Nation. In Colorado, the river officially reopened to recreation on Friday but with warnings about the water. Earlier, I spoke with John Flick, who owns the Duranglers - a fly-fishing shop in Durango, Colo., and I asked him how he first heard about the spill.
JOHN FLICK: We have a fishing tournament every year, and it happened to be that weekend. And so some of the fishermen were up in Silverton the day before we were supposed to start and said hey, there's a big orange ball of water coming your way. And I'm like yeah, sure, thanks for the joke. And they said I wish it was a joke. And so that's how I found out about it.
VIGELAND: So somebody saw it and alerted you before the EPA even said anything.
FLICK: Oh, yeah, for sure.
VIGELAND: Lots of us have seen pictures and video of this yellow river. But can you describe what you saw for us? What was that like?
FLICK: Well, yeah, it was the color of neon orange for about a day, you know, as it passed through town. But, I mean, that didn't last very long. And it's not - I've lived here 33 years, and I've seen that probably four or five times before.
VIGELAND: You have? So this is not the first time.
FLICK: Absolutely not.
VIGELAND: What's it done to business so far?
FLICK: We're down the last six days about 15 percent.
VIGELAND: So how is it comparing, say, customer-wise to a typical day in August?
FLICK: Yeah, like I say, I mean, there's just nobody in - the last four, five days, it's just hardly anybody in the shop compared to what it should be for August.
VIGELAND: We are several days out from the spill. What does the river look like now?
FLICK: It's very clean. It's green - went out and fished once they opened it, caught a couple of fish.
VIGELAND: You did?
VIGELAND: And you're not at all reluctant to eat it?
FLICK: We do nothing but catch and release. So I haven't killed a fish out of the Animas ever.
VIGELAND: So is - so it sounds like there's really no concern there in terms of what this has done to the wildlife. And again, you've seen it before?
FLICK: There's always - there's always concern. I can't look into the future.
FLICK: All I can tell you is that is what I've seen in the past. And I've seen this before - not to this extreme - but I have seen it before. That being said, because of the way it happens in the middle of the summer - heavy rafting, people got pulled off the river because of that. They closed the river and it went cyber immediately - that something's going to get done. It's going to get fixed, which is a great thing. That leaching has been going on for a long time - longer than I've been here. This just happened to be, you know - some of these abutments or these small dikes or dams they've built inside these mines to retain the water, broke, and then you've got a bunch of it all at once instead of just a little at a time.
VIGELAND: So you're hoping that this will essentially prompt some change that you've been looking for for a while.
FLICK: Absolutely, absolute.
VIGELAND: Any concerns of long-term impact on the area?
FLICK: I think the biggest concern I would say is downstream, and by that I mean clear down into New Mexico, northern New Mexico, because here in Durango and above us, we have a big gradient in the river, so it's running fast. And we get a lot more moisture. We get a lot of snow and rain. We'll have rain this fall and it'll flush that out. But once you get down below Farmington, the river's gradient goes to almost nothing and it's very flat. And through the Navajo Nations through there - so I see more of a, you know - a long-term effect down lower than I do here.
VIGELAND: So you'll be out on the river this weekend?
VIGELAND: John Flick is the owner of Duranglers - that's a bait shop in Durango, Colo. Love the name there, Jon. Thank you so much.
FLICK: You're very welcome.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.