New Mexico Declares Emergency Over Animas

Spill is three times worse than originally thought

Aug 11, 2015
Outside Magazine
New Mexico Declares Emergency Over Animas

The EPA accidentally released 3 million gallons of water containing heavy metals into the Animas River—three times more than originally reported.    Devin Neeley/KOB Eyewitness News 4

The Navajo Nation and New Mexico have both declared states of emergency five days after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spilled wastewater from an old mine into the Animas River, turning it bright orange, the Albuquerque Journal reported Monday. On August 5, the EPA accidentally released 3 million gallons of water containing heavy metals—three times more than originally reported—at Gold King Mine, 55 miles north of Durango, Colorado.

Southwestern Colorado’s La Plata County and Durango have also declared states of emergency, according to the Denver Post. By doing so, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper made $500,000 of the state’s Disaster Emergency Fund available for response, the Denver Post reported Monday.

The spill began in Colorado’s Cement Creek, which sent the wastewater south into the Animas River. Water sampling along Cement Creek and the upper Animas found higher than normal levels of arsenic, lead, copper, aluminum, and cadmium, according to preliminary data released by the EPA on Sunday. The level of arsenic in the river was 300 times greater than normal at its peak, and lead was 3,500 times higher than before the spill, but those numbers dropped as the contaminated water moved downstream.

From the Animas River, the discolored water traveled through Farmington, New Mexico, where it flowed into the San Juan River, a major water source in the Navajo Nation, according to USA Today. Russell Begaye, president of the Navajo Nation, said he intends to sue the EPA over the impact of the mine water, Native News reported Tuesday

An EPA press release from Monday said the agency doesn’t expect the river to reopen until August 17 at the earliest. It also said the agency has seen no indication of widespread fish mortality in the Animas or San Juan Rivers.

“Fish cages placed directly in the Animas River by the State of Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife for two days indicate one mortality out of 108 fish tested,” according to the release.

The spill has also traveled through Aztec and Kirtland, New Mexico, and reached Montezuma Creek, Utah, on Monday, according to USA Today. The plume is now headed to Lake Powell, one of the major reservoirs on the Colorado River.