On August 5, 2015, EPA contractors working at the Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado accidently released approximately three million gallons of contaminated mine water into the drainage of the Animas River. The water contained metals which created a bright orange plume that coursed down the Animas River and into the connecting San Juan River for many days, attracting nationwide attention and creating great concern for many local communities. The plume touched at least three states, three tribes, and numerous municipalities. The release fortunately did not prove an environmental catastrophe as many people feared at the time. However, it did inspire much angst, ire, investigation, and litigation.

The first part of this Article attempts to explain what really happened with the Gold King Mine spill, both the causes of the spill and the response to it. The Article then considers a number of federal environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), in order to assess alleged violations and demonstrate some of the important legal protections available to parties who engage in the challenging work of responding to mining contamination in the United States. The Article concludes with a look at protections for individual responders and hopes for cooperative efforts to address the mining contamination in the Animas River watershed and other contaminated mine sites across the country.