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Gold King Mine Spill Impacts Utah

The EPA is treating some of the contaminated water from the Gold King Mine spill in containment ponds like this one. Courtesy: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
The EPA is treating some of the contaminated water from the Gold King Mine spill in containment ponds like this one. Courtesy: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
August 11, 2015

MONTICELLO, Utah – San Juan County in southeastern Utah is now feeling the impact of the Gold King Mine spill in southwestern Colorado, in which three million gallons of toxic sludge escaped into the Animas River.

Part of the Colorado River system, the Animas is a tributary of the San Juan River, which is a tributary of the Colorado River.

The San Juan County Sheriff's Office says residents should not drink, swim, raft or water livestock with San Juan River water until the EPA clears it for use. Gary Wockner, executive director of Save the Colorado, says there are also questions about the effects the contamination may have as it enters Lake Powell.

"It'll flow into Lake Powell, which is the Colorado River," he says. "How bad it's going to be and how toxic it's going to be is still a question."

Lake Powell and Lake Mead are the two primary reservoirs for the Colorado River.

The EPA says its own crews accidentally caused the release of three million gallons of water containing dissolved metals from the abandoned Gold King Mine last Wednesday. The agency says it's still testing the sludge for toxicity levels, and is treating contaminated water in containment ponds.

Wockner says the Gold King Mine spill shows how vulnerable the Colorado River system is to potentially toxic devastation from century-old mines.

"There are hundreds and hundreds of abandoned mines in the mountains in Colorado and New Mexico and elsewhere," he says, "Many of those have acid mine-drainage problems."

There is an additional ban on using water for any almost purpose in Farmington, New Mexico, which relies on the Animas River as its major water source.

Deborah Courson Smith/Troy Wilde, Public News Service - UT