After the Spill is gone: Watershed Consciousness and the Animas River Mine Spill of 2015

Authors: Peter McCormick*, Fort Lewis College
Topics: Cultural Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology, Hazards, Risks, and Disasters
Keywords: Animas River mine spill, watershed, geohumanities, Colorado, place
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In August of 2015 the Gold King Mine above Silverton in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado spilled into the Animas River drainage. The spill turned the iconic river ochre-gold in nearby Durango, Colorado. The event also elicited various responses from both the local community and international media, including condemnations of the Environmental Protection Agency, local interest groups conducting independent water testing, the closure of the river and its banks to recreation, and healing ceremonies. In 2016, I suggested that the event re-located the river’s place within the region’s consciousness and was one of several ‘watershed’ events that reinforced the importance of the river to the local communities’ identities and senses of place. This paper re-examines the community response since 2015 and suggests how, and under what forms, the spill has shaped the imagined and physical landscape and the realities of residents of the Animas watershed. The paper utilizes a mix of methods, including archival work, historical photography, and analysis and synthesis of local texts in order to understand the relationship between people, landscape, and place.

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