The threat bigger than toxic spills facing Western Rivers

 

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Industrial civilization and the living planet don’t mix; the former is destroying the latter. A recent article from Summit Daily details one of the threats; to rivers in Colorado and the Southwest. 

Join Deep Green Resistance in working to help all rivers run free.

 

The threat bigger than toxic spills facing Western Rivers

Gary Wockner
Writers on the Range

If there’s any good news to be gained from the toxic spill of mine wastes into the Animas River upstream of Durango, it’s that public attention has suddenly shifted to the health of rivers in the West.

The 3-million-gallon accident riveted the media, even rating a story in England’s Guardian newspaper. Here at home, officials took action almost immediately: Biologists put out fish cages to see if the sludge was killing fish, and chemists began testing the murky water for acidity and heavy metal concentrations. Within a few days, the governor, both Colorado U.S. senators, and the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency — whose contractors triggered the spill — showed up in Durango to express their regret, outrage, support, etc. They promised that it would never happen again.

But of course a disaster is sure to occur again, because there are thousands of century-old abandoned mines in the region that have never been thoroughly cleaned up. And as the saying goes: Acid mine drainage is forever.

But while an orange plume of heavy metals moving through a river system toward a major reservoir like Lake Powell is certainly a serious problem, there’s another danger targeting rivers in the West. It’s the kind of disaster that sometimes kills every living creature in a river, imperils the river’s health for weeks and months, causes extensive contaminations of e. coli and heavy metals and destroys the recreational economy — rafting, tubing, fishing — for months at a time.

This disaster is caused by dams. Whether they are large or small, they block a river so that water can be diverted for farms, ranches or domestic use. From its beginnings high on the Continental Divide, for example, the Colorado River loses 90 percent of its flow to diversion in the first 40 miles.

Once the Arkansas River leaves the mountains and heads for Kansas, it becomes a dribble of its former self. The dammed and diverted South Platte River through Denver is often a putrid, algae-ridden and depleted mess, and when it exits town, most of its flow is made up of discharge from Denver’s sewage treatment plant.

The Cache la Poudre, near my home in northern Colorado, is sometimes drained bone-dry as it moves through downtown Fort Collins, and when it does have water in it, its native flow is diminished over 50 percent by dams and diversions.

Colorado is just the tip of the iceberg of river destruction. Rivers across New Mexico and Utah are in a similar desperate condition. And in Southern California and Arizona, most rivers are drained completely dry every single year. The Gila River in Arizona, once a large and beautiful tributary of the Colorado River, is now completely dead except during rare monsoon rains that fall perhaps once every 20 years.

But there’s worse to come. The states of Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah have all just gone through official water-planning processes and are proposing even more dams and river-draining activity. The governor of Wyoming has called for “10 new dams in 10 years.” The state of Utah wants to put “a dam on every river in the state,” and water agencies in Colorado are proposing large new diversions out of the Colorado River. In addition, Colorado yearns to retain every legal drop before its rivers cross the state’s boundaries.

As you watch the media focus for a while on river health, consider this trivia question: Where was the last major dam and river-destroying project in Colorado?

If you guessed it was on the Animas River, southwest of Durango, you’re right. The controversial Animas-La Plata Project erected a huge, new dam and reservoir, a pumping station to divert water out of the Animas River and the federal government did it all with virtually no mitigation to offset the impacts to the river.

Were elected officials outraged at this project? No, they celebrated it and named the reservoir Lake Nighthorse after former Colorado Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell.

If this plume of poisoned water moving downstream teaches us anything, maybe it ought to be this: All of our rivers are at risk so long as we continue to prevent them from running free.

Gary Wockner is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a column service of High Country News. He directs two river protection organizations, Save The Poudre and Save The Colorado, and is based in Fort Collins.

Community Members, Activists Confront Suncor Energy at Oil Leak Site

  ***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***

March 10, 2012

Community Members & Activists Confront Suncor Energy at Oil Leak Site

Protestors demand an end to pollution in Colorado, Canada

Commerce City, Colo – Members of the Stop Suncor and Tar Sands Coalition, including the American Indian Movement of Colorado (AIM), Deep Green Resistance Colorado (DGR), United Community Action Network (UCAN), Occupy Denver, Front Range Rising Tide, 350.org, Boulder Food Rescue, and concerned citizens rallied and occupied the site of Suncor Energy’s oil leak on the shore of Sand Creek. Acting as Private Attorneys General, under the authority of the Clean Water Act, water samples were taken to be tested for contaminants. The demonstration sought to bring public attention to the fact that Suncor Energy’s continued negligence and environmental degradation is killing Colorado communities, water and wildlife, and to force the industrial polluter to confront the effects of its actions.

“Suncor has so poisoned this land, that oil is not spilling into these waters, it is bubbling up through the toxified soil from numerous burst sub-surface pipelines,” Deanna Meyer of Deep Green Resistance Colorado said. “ Benzene levels in this water—water that fish, ducks, geese, beavers, trees, grasses and many other beings depend on—are 100 times the safety standard, and what’s happening here is nothing compared to the destruction of the tar sands.”

Suncor’s role in the tar sands is contributing to a devastated climate and world, and is harming indigenous communities in Canada as well as people living in local communities in Colorado. The development of the tar sands—a form of oil deposit—in Athabasca has led to the deforestation of tens of thousands of square miles of the Boreal forest and the destruction of First Nations cultures. Suncor Energy declares itself to be the first corporation to begin the extraction of this abnormally dirty form of oil, and continues to do so today. Currently, Suncor produces more than 90,000 barrels of oil a day, much of this from tar sands oil, at its refinery in Commerce City, Colorado.

“All the oil that’s being spilled here came from Athabasca, which is a First Nation community. My people up there are suffering because of the oil we’re refining here,” said Tessa McLean of American Indian Movement of Colorado to the group of more than 150 that occupied the spill site. “We don’t want that oil here!”

While the spill was first reported on November 27th of last year, it is believed to have begun nine months earlier, when an underground pipe failed a pressure test, in February of 2011. However, Suncor’s history of negligence and degradation goes far beyond 2011 (when 3 different leaks were reported). Underground “plumes” of leaked oil dot the refinery grounds, the wounds and scars left by the refinery’s operation. In addition, the refinery has been cited with nearly 100 distinct air-quality violations.

“Suncor’s activities are beyond toxic, they are incompatible with a living world and they must be stopped. A safe a just world has no place for oil leaks, toxic air, poisoned water, or the tar sands,” said the coalition.

On December 31st, the Stop Suncor and Tar Sands Coalition organized a march and rally to protest Suncor Energy on the 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver. After having now come to the site of the leak and become more familiar with the severity of the damage being wrought by Suncor, the group reiterated the need to confront and stop ecocide, whether that of Colorado waters and wildlife, or the Boreal forest of Athabasca.

As Tessa McLean said, “only when the last tree has been cut, only when the last fish has been caught, only when the last river has dried up, will we realize we cannot eat money.”

AIM & DGR Colorado Protest Suncor

This past New Year’s Eve, activists from the American Indian Movement and Deep Green Resistance Colorado organized a protest in Denver to raise awareness about the chronic negligence, pollution and general evil of Suncor Energy and it’s oil refinery in Commerce City, Colorado. We hooked up with members of Occupy Denver and marched down the 16th Street Mall, before hearing from members of AIM, DGR Colorado, and members of neighborhood in which the refinery is located.

The media coverage was surprisingly good (and honest). Check out DGR Colorado’s own Deanna Meyer on 9 News!

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