Book review: “River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed Behind the #GoldKingMine Disaster” — Jonathan Thompson

From Publisher Weekly:

Mixing reportage, historical inquiry, and personal narrative, environmental journalist Thompson uses the Gold King Mine disaster as the starting point of an investigation into the environmental history of Colorado’s Animas River Valley, stretching back to the beginning of European colonization. In 2015, three million gallons of bright-orange, heavy-metal-tainted water spewed out in a matter of minutes from the defunct Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colo. Though the immediate danger of the toxins passed relatively quickly, it irreparably altered the relationships that the local Diné (Navajo) had with their land. “Our history is a history of pollution,” Thompson writes, detailing the damages caused by even the most primitive forms of mining in a seemingly endless war between mining companies and the humans and wildlife that depend on the water systems near mining sites. Thompson, a southwestern Colorado native, knowledgeably and sensitively addresses ethical questions at the heart of his inquiry, including what it would mean to restore the water system to its precolonial state. He also effortlessly explains the technical elements of this story, such as the complex chemistry of the environmental effects of mining. This is a vivid historical account of the Animas region, and Thompson shines in giving a sense of what it means to love a place that’s been designated a “sacrifice zone.”

Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter

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Award-winning investigative environmental journalist Jonathan P. Thompson digs into the science, politics, and greed behind the 2015 Gold King Mine disaster, and unearths a litany of impacts wrought by a century and a half of mining, energy development, and fracking in southwestern Colorado. Amid these harsh realities, Thompson explores how a new generation is setting out to make amends.

As shocking and heartbreaking as the Gold King spill and its aftermath may be, it’s merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The disaster itself was the climax of the long and troubled story of the Gold King mine, staked by a Swedish immigrant back in 1887. And it was only the most visible manifestation of a slow-moving, multi-faceted environmental catastrophe that had been unfolding here long before the events of August 5, 2015.

Jonathan Thompson is a native Westerner with deep roots in southwestern Colorado. He has been an environmental journalist focusing on the American West since he signed on as reporter and photographer at the Silverton Standard & the Miner newspaper in 1996. He has worked and written for High Country News for over a decade, serving as editor-in-chief from 2007 to 2010. He was a Ted Scripps fellow in environmental journalism at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and in 2016 he was awarded the Society of Environmental Journalists’ Outstanding Beat Reporting, Small Market. He currently lives in Bulgaria with his wife Wendy and daughters Lydia and Elena.

This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]

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