Happy Birthday Wallace Stegner — @HighCountryNews

Wallace Stegner. Ed Marston/HCN file photo

From The High Country News (Matthew D. Stewart):

Wallace Stegner lived through almost the entire 20th century and wrote his way through more than half of it. His fan mail started with a trickle in the 1930s, opened up to a flow in 1943, after the publication of The Big Rock Candy Mountain, and then rushed like the rivers he loved until his death on April 13, 1993. Many letters came on his birthday, Feb. 18. Today, they are preserved with the rest of his papers at the University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library.

The letters arrived by plane from Kenya, Japan and England, and by hand from Los Altos Hills, California, where Stegner and his family lived when they were not traveling or spending the summer at their cabin in Vermont. Book clubs from across the nation wrote to Stegner, from the Literary Ladies of Hyde Park, Vermont, to a Vietnam veterans’ book club in New York City that enclosed 25 copies of Angle of Repose with a request for Stegner’s signature on all of them because the book had “left a deep-seated impression” on all 25 members of the club.

Many letters asked for autographs, some confessed love, and one was written by a couple on their honeymoon. A British fan of Stegner’s Women on the Wall included this brief review of the book: “I think it is lovely, so do my friends, we all hope you make masses of money, and pay no tax.” Among the thousands of letters that readers wrote, the theme that recurs over and over again is that Stegner respected his readers, their lives and the places they inhabited.

Most profoundly, he was capable of writing about heartbreak without succumbing to nihilism. His characters suffered real pain, and many of them failed. But Stegner’s characters sometimes went beyond the failures, if only by one step, and he never fell into cheap sentiment.

As a woman wrote after finishing Crossing to Safety: “It has something to do with bonds and frailties, a sense of place and events unfolding, and above all, endurance.” Stegner respected those who fell into the abyss and saw it for what it was, but endured nonetheless.

Stegner also told hard truths to his readers — particularly his readers in the West — about the region’s past and present. Decades before the “New Western Historians,” several of whom acknowledged his influence and corresponded with him, Stegner brought serious and critical attention to the settling of the West. He could criticize the region from within; in the words of a man who wrote to him in 1978, he could “handle the region’s culture without condescending to it.”

As one of his most famous readers, his friend and former student Wendell Berry, put it in his 1990 collection of essays, What are People For?, Stegner was a regional writer “who not only (wrote) about his region but also (did) his best to protect it, by writing and in other ways, from its would-be exploiters and destroyers.” Berry contrasted Stegner with the “industrialists of letters” who mine “one’s province for whatever can be got out of it in the way of ‘raw material’ for stories and novels.”

A woman from Montana told Stegner, “Somehow I have a sense of the land from reading your book that I have not found in a long time, and the urge to tell you that looking back to the years when I was an unprepossessing small girl suffering some of the same mental tortures that you seemed to, I figuratively wave to you across the prairie miles that lay between us. You have used your background well — the prairie and I are proud of you.”

If wisdom is simply pulling back the curtain to reveal a howling empty wasteland, 20th century fiction was full of such debilitating wisdom. Stegner was generally agnostic about any ultimate reality, but refused doubt as an excuse for selfish despair. There were too many people who had fallen in love with the land, and who counted on him; there were too many places that were threatened and fragile. In one of his most famous phrases, he described the West as the “geography of hope.” Letter after letter thanked Stegner for his sympathy, but also for his thoughtful nudge to move past the pain and live.

Mining industry water #pollution: “Having money immediately available from a responsible party would be a game changer” — Amanda Goodin

From The Associated Press (Matthew Brown) via The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Every day many millions of gallons of water loaded with arsenic, lead and other toxic metals flow from some of the most contaminated mining sites in the U.S. and into surrounding lakes and streams without being treated, The Associated Press has found.

That torrent is poisoning aquatic life and tainting drinking water sources in Montana, California, Colorado, Oklahoma and at least five other states.

The pollution is a legacy of how the mining industry was allowed to operate in the U.S. for more than a century. Companies that built mines for silver, lead, gold and other “hardrock” minerals could move on once they were no longer profitable, leaving behind tainted water that still leaks out of the mines or is cleaned up at taxpayer expense.

Using data from public records requests and independent researchers, the AP examined 43 mining sites under federal oversight, some containing dozens or even hundreds of individual mines.

The records show that at average flows, more than 50 million gallons (189 million liters) of contaminated wastewater streams daily from the sites. In many cases, it runs untreated into nearby groundwater, rivers and ponds — a roughly 20-million-gallon (76-million-liter) daily dose of pollution that could fill more than 2,000 tanker trucks.

The remainder of the waste is captured or treated in a costly effort that will need to carry on indefinitely, for perhaps thousands of years, often with little hope for reimbursement…

At many mines, the pollution has continued decades after their enlistment in the federal Superfund cleanup program for the nation’s most hazardous sites, which faces sharp cuts under President Donald Trump…


In mountains outside the Montana capital of Helena, about 30 households can’t drink their tap water because groundwater was polluted by about 150 abandoned gold, lead and copper mines that operated from the 1870s until 1953.

The community of Rimini was added to the Superfund list in 1999. Contaminated soil in residents’ yards was replaced, and the EPA has provided bottled water for a decade. But polluted water still pours from the mines and into Upper Tenmile Creek…

Estimates of the number of such abandoned mine sites range from 161,000 in 12 western states to as many as 500,000 nationwide. At least 33,000 have degraded the environment, according to the Government Accountability Office, and thousands more are discovered every year.

Officials have yet to complete work including basic risk analyses on about 80 percent of abandoned mining sites on federal lands. Most are controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, which under Trump is seeking to consolidate mine cleanups with another program and cut their combined 2019 spending from $35 million to $13 million.


Problems at some sites are intractable.

Among them:

— In eastern Oklahoma’s Tar Creek mining district, waterways are devoid of life and elevated lead levels persist in the blood of children despite a two-decade effort to clean up lead and zinc mines. More than $300 million has been committed since 1983, but only a small fraction of the impacted land has been reclaimed and contaminated water continues to flow.

— At northern California’s Iron Mountain Mine, cleanup teams battle to contain highly acidic water that percolates through a former copper and zinc mine and drains into a Sacramento River tributary. The mine discharged six tons of toxic sludge daily before an EPA cleanup. Authorities now spend $5 million a year to remove poisonous sludge that had caused massive fish kills, and they expect to keep at it forever.

— In Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, site of the Gold King blowout, some 400 abandoned or inactive mine sites contribute an estimated 15 million gallons (57 million liters) of acid mine drainage per day.

This landscape of polluted sites occurred under mining industry rules largely unchanged since the 1872 Mining Act.

State and federal laws in recent decades have held companies more accountable than in the past, but critics say huge loopholes all but ensure that some of today’s mines will foul waterways or require perpetual cleanups…


To date, the EPA has spent an estimated $4 billion on mining cleanups. Under Trump, the agency has identified a small number of Superfund sites for heightened attention after cleanup efforts stalled or dragged on for years. They include five mining sites examined by AP.

Former EPA assistant administrator Mathy Stanislaus said more money is needed to address mining pollution on a systematic basis, rather than jumping from one emergency response to another…

Democrats have sought unsuccessfully to create a special cleanup fund for old hardrock mine sites, with fees paid by the mining industry. Such a fund has been in place for coal mines since 1977, with more than $11 billion in fees collected and hundreds of sites reclaimed.

The mining industry has resisted doing the same for hardrock mines, and Republicans in Congress have blocked the Democratic proposals.

Montana Mining Association director Tammy Johnson acknowledged abandoned mines have left a legacy of pollution, but added that companies still in operation should not be forced to pay for those problems…

In 2017, the EPA proposed requiring companies still operating mines to post cleanup bonds or offer other financial assurances so taxpayers don’t end up footing cleanup bills. The Trump administration halted the rule, but environmental groups are scheduled to appear in federal court next month in a lawsuit that seeks to revive it.

“When something gets on a Superfund site, that doesn’t mean it instantly and magically gets cleaned up,” said Earthjustice attorney Amanda Goodin. “Having money immediately available from a responsible party would be a game changer.”

The latest seasonal outlooks (through May 31, 2019) are hot off the presses from the Climate Prediction Center #drought

It looks like near-normal temperatures, slightly above average precipitation, and drought improvement for Colorado. It’s all good.

Seasonal temperature outlook through May 31, 2019 via CPC.
Seasonal precipitation outlook through May 31, 2019 via CPC.
Seasonal drought outlook through May 31, 2019 via CPC.