After our free day, Jim connected with the other folks who had come to the water quality gathering. After this long lapse of time (it's now 2018), both of us are hazy on details. He attended some kind of pow-wow while I amused myself in Colorado Springs. The only specific thing that I can remember doing is going shopping! Not being one to shop for shopping's sake, I must have been looking for something particular, but who knows what. The only thing I remember getting is a dandy pair of tartan flannel baby-doll PJs! I don't recall why, exactly, but I expect it had something to do with shared ski cabins. I still have them, but can't tell you the last time I wore them.

After a day of discussion it was time for our field trip. The only place that I can specifically remember is Leadville and some mines in the area. The area called California Gulch, which contains Leadville, was listed as a Superfund site a couple of years before our visit.


Summer storms

For our field trip we loaded onto a bus and headed west into the valley beyond Pikes Peak. We passed some summer storms on the way, but never were rained on ourselves.


Abandoned mine

Our first visit was to an abandoned mine. I don't recall if it had originally produced, lead, silver, cadmium or which of the other minerals that abound in this area.


Mine remains

At one point there had been extensive processing facilities at the mine. Whatever was of value was hauled away. Everything else was just dumped on the site.


Tailings

There were huge amounts of refuse and tailings generated in the process. Some of this pile of rock is simply that: waste rock. But the potentially toxic tailings are mixed in.

The orange-yellow scar is the runoff from this former mine. I don't have a close-up image of this stream, but it was ugly!


Mines

There are at least two rock dumps from other small diggings across the valley. Water runs through them as well, adding to the stream.


Toxic pasture

This pastoral scene is at the foot of the valley where the mines are. The land is watered by the runoff from the mines and the grass has picked up toxic levels of chemicals.

Try explaining to a rancher that this visually appealing pasture is toxic. Even if it doesn't kill or sicken the cattle that graze on it, the toxic metals accumulate in their bodies and can get into the food chain.

Nevertheless, there are cattle grazing there.


Leadvill

The scenery overlooking Leadville.


Mine runoff

I didn't get any pictures of the mine we visited in Leadville, but this is a stream running from it.

Jim recalls that the discussion here may have been about mitigation methods that were used to clean up the stream of the worst contamination. It is certainly not as revolting looking as the one we saw earlier.


Stream merge

The stream shown above merging into the headwaters of the Arkansas River, which flows past Leadville. The murky stream water is easy to distinguish from the crystalline river.


River

More beautiful mountain scenery with the river running through the valley.


Abandoned mine

We are now visiting another abandoned mine.


Stream testing

This stream is also contaminated, but the unnatural color is not completely due to the mineral runoff. We are watching a demonstration of the connection of the mine runoff to the natural surface water stream.

Fluorescent green dye has been introduced into the water running through the abandoned mine and it is now turning up in the stream. As I recall at this location there was no obvious visual connection between the mine water and the natural stream, but the appearance of the dye proves that there is.

But it was a long time ago and I have forgotten a lot of the details. At any event the various scientists observing the demonstration certainly understood it better than I.


Dye

The stream has clearly picked up the dye.

It's tempting to wonder why this is such a big deal. The minerals were there all along -- why worry about them now after the mining. The problem is two-fold. The processing necessary to extract the desirable metals from the rock also extracts undesirable elements that were chemically bound in the rock. Additionally some of the processing actually introduced toxic elements to break those chemical bonds in order to free the desired metal.

Managing waste is one of the challenges of our time. We have been fouling our own nest for centuries, but only in the modern era have we been able to do it at a scale this large.

One of Jim's interesting research projects was what to do with nuclear waste. There is no easy answer, and although they developed at least one technically adequate approach, they were unable to come up with a politically acceptable solution. Unfortunately the magic wand proved elusive.


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