Jonathan Thompson [Courtesy photo]

In 2015, the Animas River in southwestern Colorado turned a ghastly orange.

Yet surprisingly enough, the shocking color was not the really bad news for this river. The orange color was caused by a large influx of iron oxides, which occur naturally in the region (and which give nearby Red Mountain its name). These compounds were not that harmful, but their concentration in the river indicated a large rush of water flushed into the Animas River.

This rush of water also contained a massive accumulation of acid mine drainage and heavy-metal byproducts, all of which had escaped containment in the Gold King Mine.

These invisible toxic chemicals had invaded the Animas River.

This event had special significance for Jonathan Thompson. His ancestors have lived in the Animas Valley watershed since they first homesteaded on the banks of the Animas River, in 1876.

Thompson was living in that region of Colorado in 2015, when the spill occurred, a year before he and his family moved to Bulgaria. They still spend their summers in the southwestern part of Colorado.

Thompson knew he had to write a book discussing the numerous causes that led to the poisoning of this river. An award-winning environmental journalist, Thompson had been reporting about the American West since 1996.

“I’ve long wanted to write a book about my ‘homeland,’ otherwise known as Four Corners country,” he said. “But I was too busy writing High Country News (magazine) articles about it, and I never stumbled upon a good focal point.”

Then the 2015 Gold King Mine spill took place, and Thompson found himself writing articles about it for High Country News. His articles about the spill broke readership records on the magazine’s website. This led to a great deal of public interest in his coverage of the spill, including a dozen or so radio interviews.

His employer and many of his Twitter followers urged him to take his coverage of this environmental disaster one step further: Write a book about it, they asked of him.

And he did. Thompson wrote “River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster.”

He will discuss his new book at Back of Beyond Books, 83 N. Main St., on Thursday, April 5, at 7 p.m. This event is free.

Special guest Sarah Fields, program director of the southeastern Utah nonprofit organization Uranium Watch, will also give a short talk at the event.

Back of Beyond Books owner Andy Nettell said that Thompson’s book is equal parts “The Quiet Crisis” and “Silent Spring.”

“It is a hundred percent scary, timely and so very important,” Nettell said. “Every citizen in every Western mining community must read this book, as should every politician at every level of government.”

Kirsten Johanna Allen, publisher and editorial director at Torrey House Press, said she was really thrilled when Thompson brought his project to the press.

“He tells such a comprehensive story, not just about the mine spill, but also how mining had affected the European settlers that just moved into the Four Corners area, and the Ute people who were often violently pushed out,” Allen said. “And learning the science about what mining leaves behind is fascinating if also horrifying.”

The characters vividly pull the reader into the story.

“You’re in the mining shack as the avalanche comes through,” Allen said. “You’re in the streets while the shootouts between the law and the local miners (are) happening. Everyone is in for a really great storytelling read in addition to learning about the industry that has left a significant impact on the Four Corners area, economically, culturally and ecologically.”

When Thompson landed his first journalism job, as a reporter and photographer at the Silverton Standard & the Miner newspaper in 1996, he embarked on a career path similar to that of his father, who was himself a journalist and writer.

Thompson has served as associate editor, editor in chief, and senior editor. He is now a contributing editor and writer. Thompson received his bachelor’s degree in philosophy and mathematics from St. Johns College in Santa Fe. He was a Ted Scripps Fellow at the Center for Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Thompson has also worked as an artisan baker, bike mechanic, janitor, and seed-germination technician. Yet environmental journalism has always been his calling.

“In some ways, I’ve been researching this book since I started as a cub reporter in 1996,” he said.

Author comes to Back of Beyond on April 5 to discuss book about mine spill

When: Thursday, April 5, at 7 p.m.

Where: Back of Beyond Books, 83 N. Main St.

Cost: Free