Emergency work at spill site is reducing pollution discharge
FRISCO — Environmental experts say that, so far, there’s no sign of widespread fish mortality in the Animas River after the Aug. 5 spill from the Gold King Mine, near Silverton that sent about 1 million gallons of tainted water surging downstream.
The discharge included heavy metals like zinc, which can kill trout, but in an Aug. 10 update, the EPA said that fish cages placed directly in the Animas River by Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists indicate one mortality out of 108 fish tested. The agency is working with the New Mexico Department of Game Fish and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to investigate reports of impacts to wildlife.
The agency also said that emergency treatment at the site of the spill has actually reduced polluted discharge from the mine to below, pre-spill levels. Read the full update here.
“We have constructed four ponds at the mine site and which are treating water by lowering acidity levels and removing dissolved metals,” the EPA posted in the update. “This system is discharging treated water to Cement Creek at levels cleaner (higher pH and lower levels of metals) than pre-event, background conditions in the creek. Over the next several days, EPA will make upgrades to the system to ensure its continued operation.”
Based on continued water quality sampling in the Animas and San Juan rivers, the EPA and state partners will be considering when the water is once again safe for activities and uses such as rafting, fishing, irrigation, and drinking water.
“We do not anticipate any reopening decisions until at least August 17. The timing of these decisions could vary among local, state and tribal governments based on local conditions and by uses. Until notified otherwise, people should continue to abide by existing closures,” the EPA stated.
The EPA is continuing to collect water quality samples from nine locations in the river near intakes for Aztec, Farmington, the Lower Valley Water Users Association, the Morning Star Water Supply System and the North Star Water User Association. Each of these locations will continue to be monitored as the spill makes its way past these areas. Working with San Juan County, NM officials, EPA is providing alternative water supply for livestock in New Mexico.
EPA and New Mexico Environment Department are providing free water quality testing for domestic drinking water wells along the river. Teams of qualified technicians are going door-to-door to collect samples for laboratory analysis.
The EPA said it is committed to taking responsibility for the discharge and impacts to affected communities and has established a claims process for people affected by the spill.