DENVER – A toxic wastewater spill which poured from an old mine into the Animus River last week is three times larger than originally thought.
Instead of 1 million gallons, an estimated 3 million gallons of water contaminated with heavy metals, including lead and arsenic, is believed to have spilled into the river, the Associated Press reported. The contaminated plume came from an abandoned mine in southwestern Colorado and is expected to reach San Juan County Monday morning and flow into Lake Powell by Wednesday.
The Environmental Protection Agency said the amount of contaminated water that leaked from the Gold King Mine into the Animas River, turning the water a mucky orange and then yellow, is three times larger than its initial estimate.
Rather than the 1 million gallons originally announced, the EPA now says that 3 million gallons of wastewater spilled Wednesday and Thursday. The revision came after the EPA used a stream gauge from the U.S. Geological Survey.
The agency has so far been unable to determine whether humans or aquatic life face health risks. However, EPA toxicologist Deborah McKean said the sludge moved so quickly after the spill that it would not have “caused significant health effects” to animals that consumed the water.
The discolored water from the spill stretched more than 100 miles from where it originated near Colorado’s historic mining town of Silverton into the New Mexico municipalities of Farmington, Aztec and Kirtland.
San Juan County
The leading edge of the plume is headed toward Utah and Montezuma Creek near the town of Bluff, a tourist destination. The town is populated by just a few hundred people, and is surrounded by scenic sandstone bluffs.
Local officials were preparing to shut down two wells that serve Montezuma Creek, said Rex Kontz, deputy general manager for the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority.
The shutdown will take place between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m, Monday, according to a statement from the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office issued Sunday.
“San Juan County will have a water tanker stationed at the Montezuma Creek Fire Station for the residents of Aneth and Montezuma Creek to access water,” the statement said.
The Bureau of Land Management will also have a water tank at the Mexican Hat Fire Station at noon Monday for the residents of Halchita. The clean water is being hauled in from Arizona.
The sheriff’s office further stated:
At this time the water is for human use only and residents will need to bring their own containers to fill up. Do not bring tanks. Water is going to be limited to 25 gallons of water per family per day. We want to make sure that everyone will have access to water. Please be courteous and orderly when filling up your water bottles. The EPA at this time does not have enough information to determine when water services will be restored.
County residents are also advised not to allow livestock to drink water from the river.
The plume of contaminated water is expected to reach Lake Powell by Wednesday around 5 p.m., according to the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office.
When the spill was reported last week, the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area issued a warning to visitors to avoid fishing, swimming in, recreating in, or drinking water from the San Juan River arm of the lake until further notice.
“Most river sediments will settle out of the water when the river current slows at Lake Powell, as is illustrated by the sediment deltas at the mouths of all rivers entering the lake,” National Park Service officials said in a statement Friday. “Even if all of the contaminants do not settle out of the water at the San Juan River sediment delta, because of the extremely slow rate of movement down the 40-mile San Juan River arm of Lake Powell, at this time the alert is not being issued for the entire lake.”
Back in Colorado where the spill started, the EPA plans to meet with residents of Durango, downstream from the mine. The EPA water tests near Durango are still being analyzed.
The EPA has not said how long cleanup efforts will take. An EPA-supervised crew trying to enter the mine to pump out and treat the water caused the spill.
St. George News reporter Ric Wayman, The Associated Press and Associated Press writer Lindsay Whitehurst contributed to this article.
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