Besides flowing over its banks, ensnaring the occasional walker and passing dog, the now-mighty Boise River has a new claim to fame: American Rivers this week named the Boise as one of the nation's top 10 "Most Endangered Rivers." Coming in at number six, the Boise hit the list because, among other things, the river's headwaters are too close for comfort to a proposed gold mine near Atlanta. The mine, long feared by local conservationists, would use cyanide heap-leach technology to strain microscopic bits of gold out of giant pits.
"Cyanide-leach mining methods have a record of leaking toxins into waterways across the West," said Susan Ziebarth, and she should know. As a former manager of a similar operation in Nevada, she told a forum at Boise State that few guarantees exist in a technology known for its toxicity. Current proposals by the Atlanta Gold Company could include mine-wast dumps of 27 million tons in the valley overlooking the town of Atlanta.
"Despite assurances that this project will involve 'state of the art technology' the reality is, this type of mining process consistently fails," said Kevin Lewis of Idaho Rivers United. Other regional rivers on the top-10 list include the Willamette River of Oregon, and the Upper Yellowstone River in Montana.