Jed Boal ReportingPollution from abandoned mines impacts 40-percent of the West's headwater streams, according to the EPA. Now there’s a new effort to clean up of mine waste.
From 1870 to 1920 miners extracted silver and gold from a basin in American Fork Canyon. Today, metal waste still washes into the river, but ongoing cleanup has turned the watershed around. You can eat the trout you catch again and restoration could be complete next year, thanks to a partnership of Trout Unlimited, the National Forest Service and Snowbird Ski Resort, which owns the property.
Across the West thousands of abandoned mines pollute streams on public and private land.
Chris Wood, Trout Unlimited: “The problem is so thorny, and solutions are so difficult to come by, it seems easier to turn a blind eye than to take it head on."
Trout Unlimited and the Forest Service call the American Fork restoration a model for other private landowners and communities willing to clean up the messes they inherited. The Chief of the Forest Service says they've made progress, but there are decades of work ahead.
Dale Bosworth, Chief of the Forest Service: “Thousands of abandoned mine sites on national forest service lands can still release hazardous substances into our water sources. The forest service wants all of these sites restored."
These partners say that working together is the only way to get this kind of job done. Restoration is too expensive for most private landowners, and there are liability issues when it comes to moving and handling the rock waste.
Bob Bonar, Snowbird President: “Hopefully we can work together on changing some of those so we can remove some of those barriers that make it tough to be involved in these kind of things."
A report released today, Settled, Mined and Left Behind, details the problems and potential solutions for ten watersheds across the West.
With no dedicated federal clean-up money and no incentives for private owners to foot the bill, public awareness and new partnerships could be the best ways for the Forest Service to achieve its goal.