The Gold King Mine Spill that sent 3 million gallons of wastewater into the Animas River last week closed the Animas and the connecting San Juan River from drinking water, irrigation, and recreation purposes, according to Reuters. While the EPA reported no immediate damage to wildlife or people using the river, locals have been advised against drinking or bathing in well water, and the towns of Durango, Colorado, Aztec, New Mexico, and Farmington, New Mexico have closed off their intakes from the waterways. The closure of access to the rivers has affected many locals, who rely on the rivers for water supply and income.
Watersports Companies Lose Business
The spill has taken a financial toll on multiple local businesses. Durango’s Mild to Wild Rafting has been unable to take clients on the Animas and expects to lose between $150,000 and $200,000 in revenue during the closure, according to the Denver Post.
4 Corners Riversports, another Durango-based business, was forced to cancel its kayak clinics. Its rental sales decreased and retail sales fell by 70 percent.
"We are used to those bad years,” Andy Corra, co-owner of 4 Corners Riversports, told the Denver Post. “But this is very different because we were having the best year ever. We are geared up and fully stocked and boom, the next day the river is closed.”
The Animas has also been closed to fishing, leaving an impact on local fishing shops. But Buck Skillen, who works for Duranglers fly-fishing shop in Durango, said that that the spill doesn’t seem to have had a serious impact on aquatic life, and fish are still feeding on the river surface. Even though toxicity and pH levels on the Animas may be returning to pre-spill levels, Skillen notes that this wasn’t a one-time incident.
“This is not the first time this has happened around here,” he told Outside. “We’ve had acid mine draining going out of the Silverton caldera mines since the turn of the century. It has gotten progressively worse over the last ten years.”
Farmers Rethink Water Supplies
The closure of access to the San Juan River forced farmers in towns like Farmington and Shiprock, New Mexico, to look beyond their normal water sources, according to the Four Corners’ Daily Times. Because the towns were more than 100 miles away from the spill’s origin, early warnings helped farmers avoid crop contamination. The New Mexico State University’s San Juan County Extension Office extended 30,000 gallons of emergency water supplies to farmers and livestock owners, but supplies won’t last.
"We'll be fine for a few days," D'rese Sutherland, one of the owners of Sutherland Farms, in Aztec, New Mexico, told the Daily Times. “If we don't get water on some crops within the next week, we will start losing some.”