Drone footage is one type of free content we’ll be offering in our multimedia library.
This page features drone-captured footage and photos of the Colorado River, near Radium, Colorado.
The imagery shows the Colorado River after it emerges from Gore Canyon, a popular whitewater rafting location that includes some Class V rapids.
Date: August 13, 2019
Location: Gore Canyon and the Colorado River, near Radium, Colorado. (map)
Photographer: Mitch Tobin, FAA Remote Pilot Certificate #4002345
Organization: The Water Desk at the University of Colorado Boulder
Rights: Free to reuse under Creative Commons license, with credit to “Mitch Tobin/WaterDesk.org”
Colorado River Drone Footage August 13 2019 Edit 1: Aerial footage of the Colorado River emerging from Gore Canyon, near Radium, Colorado. Video by Mitch Tobin/The Water Desk.
Colorado River Drone August 13 2019 Edit 2: Aerial footage of the Colorado River downstream from Gore Canyon, near Radium, Colorado. Video by Mitch Tobin/The Water Desk.
Modern society relies on metals like copper, gold and nickel for uses ranging from medicine to electronics. Most of these elements are rare in Earth’s crust, so mining them requires displacing vast volumes of dirt and rock. Hard rock mining – so called because it refers to excavating hard minerals, not softer materials like coal or tar sands – generated US$600 billion in revenues worldwide in 2017.
I study human-altered landscapes, including areas impacted by mines. Mining operations are major water pollution sources and can cause problems that persist for generations. Their global footprints also directly reshape significant portions of Earth’s topography, leaving indelible evidence of human presence.
Digging deep and wide
In most locations, concentrations of copper, gold and other elements are too low to be extracted profitably. But in some spots they occur in seams of mineable, high-concentration minerals called ores. The economically viable concentration of a mineral depends largely on its market price. Gold ore can be viable at concentrations as low as 0.0001%, while copper becomes uneconomic below 0.5%.
To reach these deposits underground, miners tunnel, dig open pits or scrape through the Earth’s surface. The choice of technique depends on factors including how consolidated the ore is, the geologic setting and the depth of the ore.
Deep mines disturb the smallest amount of surface land, but are inherently more dangerous for miners. Far below the Earth’s surface, crews constantly risk encountering toxic gas fumes or stale air with no life-giving oxygen. Other dangers include earthquakes and equipment failures. In 2010, 33 Chilean miners spent over two months trapped underground in a copper-gold mine after a ramp collapsed, but ultimately were rescued.
Growing international emphasis on mine safety and changes in technology and ore quality have prompted a shift from deep mining to pit mines or surface mines, which access ores from the open air. Pit mines can be up to three-quarters of a mile deep, but typically cover less than 20 square miles. In contrast, surface mines typically extend less than 1,000 feet into the Earth’s crust, but can extend over hundreds of square miles.
Accessing ore typically involves blowing apart bedrock, removing it from the shaft or pit and storing waste materials nearby after extracting the ore. In these heaps of loose rock, known as spoil piles, previously buried raw minerals are exposed to air or water. Sulfur-rich compounds in the rock react with oxygen and water, producing sulfuric acid, which can lower the pH of nearby streams to levels comparable to lemon juice or vinegar.
At its worst this process, known as acid mine drainage, can kill most native aquatic life. If acid drainage reaches groundwater, it may persist for decades or centuries and start a cascade of other impacts that impair water quality throughout local river networks.
When acid mine drainage lowers a stream’s pH, other metals can also start to melt out of minerals in spoil piles, mine shafts or adjacent soils, leaching into soil and groundwater that intersects these areas. This creates waters with increased levels of cadmium, copper, lead and other heavy metals, which are harmful to aquatic insects, fish and human health.
These effects can be transported far downstream and last for generations. Old and abandoned mines around the world have harmed water quality long after mining has ceased. Their impacts can come as long-term slow leakage, or as sudden discharges like the 2015 Gold King spill near Silverton, Colorado, which released three million gallons of mine wastewater and debris into the Animas River.
According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, there are at least 161,000 abandoned hardrock mining sites in the U.S. West and Alaska. Of these, at least 33,000 have contaminated water supplies or left piles of mine waste contaminated with arsenic behind.
Altering the planet’s shape
Mining operations have also left thousands of square miles of land altered. In some cases, particularly mountaintop removal mining, entire land forms are permanently reshaped. For millennia the planet’s surface was configured by the slow geologic processes of wind and rain. In contrast, mining alters the very geology, topography, hydrology and ecology of sites within years or decades.
These earth-moving activities represent the kind of effect that has led many environmental scientists to argue that our planet has entered a new geologic epoch – the Anthropocene – where human choices have a greater impact on the Earth than purely natural processes. Landscape evolution moves in very slow cycles, so these topographic and geologic impacts may last far longer than mining’s effects on water quality. And because geologic processes are slow, scientists don’t know how these landscapes will diverge or converge in their future evolution.
Economic imperatives lead companies to continue to push for new mines, either in the U.S. or abroad, where environmental controls may be weaker And new projects are likely to move more rock, consume more energy and have longer-lasting impacts than those that preceded them.
Ensuring that mining operations are subject to effective oversight and long-term monitoring, and that companies are held accountable for environmental damages, is a long-term challenge wherever mining takes place. The best way to completely avoid the complications that come from mining more minerals is to reduce consumption of them, make mining processes more efficient and make it more economic to recycle industrial materials and rare earth metals.
This water year was marked by above-average snowpack, a spring of precipitation at or near average and a summer that turned drier and, at least anecdotally, windier than average late in the season.
Cool spring temperatures melted snowpack off slowly, giving irrigators time to use that water before it flowed passed. The river ran high and fast at about 1,000 cubic feet per second through Steamboat Springs from the time the snow started melting in late April until early July, according to U.S. Geological Survey data recorded at the Fifth Street stream gauge. A mix of rain and summer snow on the summer solstice brought the river one of its latest peaks on record at the Fifth Street gauge in downtown Steamboat, flowing at 4,180 cfs on June 21.
This extended the rafting season on the stretch of river through town, but it delayed tubing season until July 15. The river also closed for only a day this summer, when flows fell below 85 cfs on Aug. 29. The city of Steamboat Springs and Tri-State Generation and Transmission released water to increase hydropower production at the dam at Stagecoach Reservoir and boosted flows through town, allowing the river to reopen the following day…
The late runoff was a boon for [Jeff] Meyers, though Erin Light, the Colorado Division of Water Resource’s Division 6 Engineer, said that wasn’t the case across the entire Yampa River basin.
“Some areas did really well, and other areas seemed like all the snow just soaked right into the ground,” Light said. “It would certainly make sense that would occur, given how dry we were the previous year, that a lot of snow just soaked right into the ground. That definitely was a factor in some areas.”
Meyers said the snow-soaked ground helped his pastures recoup from a hot, dry summer in 2018.
“Of course, it’s not just the hay crop, but it’s also the pastures,” he said. “After 2018, they really needed a break, and they got one. This year was really great that way.”
A winter thick with snow and a spring full of rain broke a 20-year streak of drought conditions in the state of Colorado, though slight rainfall in late summer brought back abnormally dry conditions in late July, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Routt and Moffat counties are currently in abnormally dry conditions, according to the Drought Monitor.
Here’s a guest column that’s running in the Colorado Springs Gazette:
Proposition DD isn’t a tax increase on citizens or most businesses. DD requires that casinos pay a tax on the profits from sports betting in a similar way they pay taxes on other casino earnings. It allows Colorado Mountain Casinos to offer sports betting, which is something they aren’t able to participate in.
In 1992, Congress gave Las Vegas a monopoly on sports betting, through an ill-conceived measure in an omnibus package. Thankfully, the Supreme Court overturned this ridiculous law, last year, in the case of Murphy v. The National Collegiate Athletic Association. Justice Alito wrote in the majority opinion that the regulation of sports betting should be left to the states. Our response to this opportunity: Proposition DD.
Proposition DD authorizes operating mountain casinos to offer sports betting, so Las Vegas doesn’t maintain their monopoly. It also allows for a small tax on these same casinos’ profits. The revenue from this tax goes to regulation costs, gambling addiction services, and the Colorado Water Plan.
While Colorado’s population continues to explode, competition for water is reaching a fevered pitch. It’s time for Colorado to take action to preserve the future of our water. Proposition DD will address water infrastructure needs.
Proposition DD would provide an estimated $29 million in funding to expand reservoirs, invest in water quality, manage watersheds decimated by wildfires, and protect access to flowing rivers and streams for fishermen and rafters. Conservatives and citizens who recognize the importance of water to the future of our great state — should vote yes.
DD will provide the funding necessary to protect Colorado’s water. It addresses core challenges like the need for water infrastructure with targeted approaches that do not increase taxes on the general public. By doing this, we keep the pressure for new taxes off the taxpayers in our great state.
Colorado must seek ways to address infrastructure needs without resorting to major tax hikes or the weakening of your Taxpayer Bill of Rights. There is zero need to resort to these measures to fix Colorado’s infrastructure needs. That is why Proposition DD is a reasonable proposal that engages our needs while maintaining low taxes.
Sports betting would be a new enterprise for Colorado, but Proposition DD would limit this enterprise to existing casinos and gambling establishments. It is a modest approach to the gambling industry, while still being viable enough to address our state’s obligations. If the voters approve Proposition DD in November, it is a win for agriculture, a win for the environment, and a win for all Coloradoans.
That’s why, as conservative Republicans, we are proud to join the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, the Farm Bureau, the Colorado Dairy Farmers, the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the Colorado Water Trust, Club 20, Action 22, the Grand Junction, Rangeley, and Denver Chambers, and dozens of key water leaders in rural, urban and suburban Colorado in supporting Proposition DD.
The following Colorado legislators contributed to this column: Senate: John Cooke, Owen Hill, Rob Woodward, Don Coram. House: Patrick Neville, Mark Catlin, Matt Soper, Janice Rich, Dave Williams, Kevin Van Winkle, Rod Pelton, Shane Sandridge, Colin Larson.