Toxic waste spill now estimated at 3 million gallons; San Juan County water affected

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.

Lake Powell

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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Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.


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  • fun bag August 10, 2015 at 1:02 pm

    dang commi librul EPA. If them big mean communists liberals at EPA would just stop picking on those poor mining operations they would do the right thing 100% of the time. Them darn libruls might very well killed every fish in the CO river. DANG YOU OBAMA!!!

    • ladybugavenger August 10, 2015 at 3:18 pm


    • native born new mexican August 10, 2015 at 7:24 pm

      Once again Fun bag there is nothing funny about this situation. It is a terrible tragedy for everyone who lives in the area and depends on that river for their water source. The mine has existed for over 100 years. It is an OLD mining site that was fine until the EPA did the wrong thing to so call clean it up. No modern mining company is to blame for this. You are good at putting your foot in your mouth. Many, many people are really suffering because of this. I am from close by that area and I know what is happening. IT IS NO JOKE.!!

      • native born new mexican August 10, 2015 at 7:45 pm

        Did you get the message that real suffering is going on for so many people and this is not funny fun bag – NO JOKE!!!

      • fun bag August 10, 2015 at 8:21 pm

        look into it. There was good reason they were trying to filter that toxic mining waste. IT WAS NOT “FINE”… And if left alone it might have burst through whatever was retaining it and come out on its own because apparently there wasn’t much holding it in there… The joke is how dumb all your types are for completely blaming the epa. Guess who will payout??… that’s right THE EPA. GET OVER YOURSELF AND GO RESEARCH WHAT A SUPERFUND SITE IS…

      • fun bag August 11, 2015 at 6:02 pm

        Awfully silent there, Mr ‘new mexico expert’…lol

  • Dexter August 10, 2015 at 1:56 pm

    Psssssst be nice or he will come and get your gall dang guns.!

  • fun bag August 10, 2015 at 1:57 pm

    and if anyone else has some toxic sludge like this lying around, just pump it into MESAMAN’s house. He’ll be right at home with it and start to roll around in it 🙂

  • Dexter August 10, 2015 at 6:45 pm

    If you want. to add more sludge into the river just have REAL LIFE DORK step into the river

  • Real Life August 10, 2015 at 7:44 pm

    So are we going to stiil build a giant silly straw to Powell to pipeline this toxic mess here?

    • wilbur August 11, 2015 at 8:43 am

      the money question

    • Dexter August 12, 2015 at 1:08 am

      Oh wow REAL LIFE DORK tried to be funny. the more you post the dumber you look to us all

  • beacon August 11, 2015 at 7:59 am

    Makes you wonder how many more old mine sites are just waiting to ooze or gush out into waterways. EPA screwed up, but the real screw up was the time in this country’s history when operations like this were allowed with little if any oversight and owners were not required to take care of their waste properly. Rather, they took the profits and left the rest of us with their mess. Yes, the product they produced may have been used for our benefit but at what cost when something like this happens. Blame the EPA for a lousy job but go back to the source for the real culprit. There are thousands of Super Fund sites in this country that are potential problems left by those out to make a quick buck.

  • Dan August 11, 2015 at 11:03 am

    There are thousands of such mines in the west, and many in the east. In the 19th century there was no oversight or concern. After all, no one was in the area but miners who were likely to die anyway, and the wild animals. The sins of the fathers…..and all that.

    BTW, this was NOT a SuperFund site. The locals in Silverton, and many in Durango, opposed it becoming such because it would “hurt tourism”. So now tourism has been crippled in another way. Having lived there, I know how tourist based their economies are.

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