WASHINGTON COUNTY – With eyes on the toxic plume of mine wastewater from the Gold King Mine in Colorado moving into the San Juan River and possibly Lake Powell, people have begun to ask the Washington County Water Conservancy District if the county water supply is at risk.
The short answer: No.
“Washington County Water Conservancy District does not anticipate any interruptions to water service in Washington County as a result of the San Juan River contamination caused by the Gold King Mine spill in Colorado,” WCWCD officials said in a press release Tuesday.
The county’s water supply comes from the Virgin River watershed, officials said. Water is currently not received from the San Juan River or Lake Powell.
“The majority of the district’s water is collected from the Virgin River at the Quail Creek Diversion and transported via pipeline to the county’s two largest off-stream reservoirs: Quail Creek and Sand Hollow,” officials said in the release.
Should there be any contamination in the area, the district’s water system is designed to allow the Virgin River to bypass it.
“Storage in the district’s reservoirs is adequate to serve municipal demands should collection of river water be temporarily ceased for any reason,” officials said.
Last week the Gold King Mine in Colorado began to spill toxic wastewater into Colorado River after a cleanup crew under the Environmental Protection Agency accidentally released it. The toxic water turned the river orange and then yellow for some 40-60 miles as it drifted downstream.
As of Sunday, it is estimated by the EPA that 3 million gallons of the wastewater was released into the Colorado River. Contaminants include heavy metals, including lead and arsenic.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, senior Republican in the Senate, has called for change at the EPA in the wake of the spill.
“Going forward, I will do everything in my power to ensure that the EPA cleans up this mess and ensures that mistakes such as this don’t happen again,” Hatch said, and added:
This disaster emphasizes the need for the EPA to focus on fulfilling its existing responsibilities, instead of focusing its resources on imposing expensive new regulations that kill jobs and hurt family budgets.
In San Juan County, access to drinking water from the river has been shut off for the time being. Fresh water is being trucked in for county residents in affected areas.
The Utah Department of Environmental Quality is currently testing parts of the San Juan River to determine the overall water quality and access any potential risks.
“As the contaminated water makes its way west into Utah, I’m highly concerned about its effects on the water upon which our agriculture, industry, recreation, and municipalities depend,” Hatch said.
Depending upon how much the toxic plume dilutes, the impact could be minimal, though nothing will be known for sure until testing is completed, state officials said.
The EPA has not said how long cleanup efforts will take.
- Toxic waste spill now estimated at 3 million gallons; San Juan County water affected
- Colorado mine spill sludge heads downriver, joins Colorado River in Utah