Officials downstream from Colorado mine spill demand answers - KSWO 7News | Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Officials downstream from Colorado mine spill demand answers

By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN and ELLEN KNICKMEYER
Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Local officials in towns downstream from where millions of gallons of mine waste spilled into a southwest Colorado river are demanding answers about possible long-term threats to the water supply.

Colorado and New Mexico declared stretches of the Animas and San Juan rivers to be disaster areas as the orange-colored waste stream made its way downstream toward Lake Powell in Utah after the spill Wednesday at the abandoned Gold King mine near Silverton, Colorado.

The 3 million gallons of mine waste included high concentrations of arsenic, lead and other heavy metals. Workers with the EPA accidentally unleashed the spill as they inspected the abandoned mine site.

EPA officials said Monday that there was no leading edge of contamination visible in downstream sections of the San Juan River or Lake Powell. But that has done little to ease concerns or quell the anger caused by the spill.

The Navajo Nation, which covers parts of New Mexico, Utah and Arizona, declared an emergency as it shut down water intake systems and stopped diverting water from the San Juan River.

Members of the tribal council were frustrated during a special meeting Monday and echoed the sentiment of New Mexico and Utah officials that the federal government needs to be held accountable.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes discussed the legal implications with his New Mexico counterpart, Hector Balderas, and planned to hold a similar call with Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, Reyes' office said Monday.

"We hope to work with our sister states to ensure our citizens are protected and whatever remediation is necessary occurs as quickly as possible," Reyes said in a statement. "We will continue to evaluate the legal issues as we receive data and monitor the effects on our communities."

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said the governor is disappointed in the EPA's initial handling of the spill but the state has no plans for legal action.

The EPA has said the contaminants were rolling too fast to be an immediate health threat. Experts and federal environmental officials say they expect the river system to dilute the heavy metals before they pose a longer-term threat.

The EPA said stretches of the rivers would be closed for drinking water, recreation and other uses at least through Aug. 17.

Dissolved iron in the waste turned the long plume an alarming orange-yellow - a look familiar to old-time miners who call it "yellow boy" - so "the water appears worse aesthetically than it actually is, in terms of health," said Ron Cohen, a civil and environmental engineering professor at the Colorado School of Mines.

Tests show some of the metals have settled to the bottom and would dissolve only if conditions became acidic, which isn't likely, Cohen said.

The best course for the EPA would be to leave the metals where they settle, he said, noting that next spring's mountain snowmelt would help dilute the contaminants further and flush them downstream.

No die-off of wildlife along the river has yet been detected. Federal officials say all but one of a test batch of fingerling trout deliberately exposed to the water survived over the weekend.

As a precaution, state and federal officials along the river system have ordered public water systems to turn off intake valves as the plume passes. Boaters and fishing groups have been told to avoid affected stretches of the Animas and San Juan rivers, which are crowded with rafters and anglers in a normal summer.

Recreational businesses along the rivers said they were losing thousands of dollars.

"We had lots of trips booked. Right now we're just canceling by the day," said Drew Beezley, co-owner of 4 Corners Whitewater in Durango, Colorado.

He said his company has had to cancel 20 rafting trips so far, and his dozen employees are out of work until the river is deemed safe to enter again.

"We don't really know what the future holds yet," said Beezley, who estimates that he's lost about $10,000 worth of business since the spill last week. "We don't know if the rest of this season is just scrapped."

The EPA has considered adding a section of the Animas River in Colorado as a Superfund cleanup site at least since the 1990s because heavy metals from Gold King and other defunct mines were killing fish and other species.

The designation would have brought federal clean-up funds, but some in Colorado opposed the move in part because of the stigma attached. The EPA agreed to allow local officials to lead clean-up efforts instead.

___

Knickmeyer reported from San Francisco. AP writers Lindsay Whitehurst in Salt Lake City, Ivan Moreno and Thomas Peipert in Denver, and Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico, contributed to this story.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Local NewsNewsMore>>

  • More LGBT issues loom as justices near wedding cake decision

    More LGBT issues loom as justices near wedding cake decision

    Saturday, May 26 2018 9:33 AM EDT2018-05-26 13:33:35 GMT
    Sunday, May 27 2018 11:37 PM EDT2018-05-28 03:37:59 GMT
    (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File). FILE - In this Oct. 10, 2017, file photo, the Supreme Court in Washington is seen at sunset. A flood of lawsuits over LGBT rights is making its way through the courts and will continue, no matter the outcome in the...(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File). FILE - In this Oct. 10, 2017, file photo, the Supreme Court in Washington is seen at sunset. A flood of lawsuits over LGBT rights is making its way through the courts and will continue, no matter the outcome in the...

    A flood of lawsuits over LGBT rights is making its way through courts and that'll continue, no matter what the Supreme Court decides in the case of a baker who wouldn't create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

    A flood of lawsuits over LGBT rights is making its way through courts and that'll continue, no matter what the Supreme Court decides in the case of a baker who wouldn't create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

  • Bloody but forgotten WWII battle still haunts soldiers

    Bloody but forgotten WWII battle still haunts soldiers

    Sunday, May 27 2018 11:34 AM EDT2018-05-27 15:34:09 GMT
    Sunday, May 27 2018 11:37 PM EDT2018-05-28 03:37:46 GMT
    (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen). In this May 19, 2018, photo World War II veterans Allan Seroll, left, of Massachusetts, and William Roy Dover, right, of Alabama, right, attend a 75th anniversary celebration of the Battle of Attu in Anchorage, Alaska. Dover w...(AP Photo/Mark Thiessen). In this May 19, 2018, photo World War II veterans Allan Seroll, left, of Massachusetts, and William Roy Dover, right, of Alabama, right, attend a 75th anniversary celebration of the Battle of Attu in Anchorage, Alaska. Dover w...

    One of the bloodiest World War II battles in the Pacific was waged 75 years ago this month on Attu Island in Alaska's Aleutian Islands.

    One of the bloodiest World War II battles in the Pacific was waged 75 years ago this month on Attu Island in Alaska's Aleutian Islands.

  • US Marines' bravery celebrated 100 years after French battle

    US Marines' bravery celebrated 100 years after French battle

    Sunday, May 27 2018 8:04 AM EDT2018-05-27 12:04:22 GMT
    Sunday, May 27 2018 11:37 PM EDT2018-05-28 03:37:07 GMT
    (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo). U.S. Marine Corps soldiers stand beneath the U.S. flag during a Memorial Day commemoration at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in Belleau, France, Sunday, May 27, 2018.(AP Photo/Virginia Mayo). U.S. Marine Corps soldiers stand beneath the U.S. flag during a Memorial Day commemoration at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in Belleau, France, Sunday, May 27, 2018.

    High-ranking military officials from the U.S., France and Germany have taken part in Memorial Day ceremonies at an American cemetery in northern France to mark the centennial of the battle of Belleau Wood, a key...

    High-ranking military officials from the U.S., France and Germany have taken part in Memorial Day ceremonies at an American cemetery in northern France to mark the centennial of the battle of Belleau Wood, a key moment in Marine Corps history.

Powered by Frankly