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Watershed Strategy For Clean-Up of Abandoned Mine Lands

Robert H. Robinson, Cleaning Up the Public Domain: The Next Frontier (1996)

Estimates of the number of abandoned mine sites vary widely from 200,000 to more than 500,000 sites. These sites occur in mining districts scattered primarily throughout the western U.S. Abandoned mine lands (AML) have been a major source of water quality degradation and environmental pollution for over a century. In Colorado, for example, there are over 1,200 miles of streams impaired by heavy metal pollution1. Many of the larger hazardous waste mine sites with viable responsible parties are being remediated under the Superfund program. What remains are numerous small abandoned sites that individually have small impacts, but cumulatively degrade our streams and inhibit aquatic life.

The Federal land management bureaus in the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) have announced an initiative2 that will expedite the cleanup of AMLs on Federal public lands. The initiative is supported by Governors Roy Romer3 and Marc Racicot4, and the Western Governors' Association5. A speech6 (copy attached) by Deputy Assistant Secretary Sylvia Baca further describes the clean-up initiative and its background.

This paper briefly outlines the technical aspects of the watershed strategy.