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Gold King Mine Spill Hits Farmington Hard

No drinking, cooking or bathing with water from Animas River for Farmington, New Mexico, following the Gold King Mine spill in Colorado. Courtesy: Environmental Protection Agency
No drinking, cooking or bathing with water from Animas River for Farmington, New Mexico, following the Gold King Mine spill in Colorado. Courtesy: Environmental Protection Agency
August 11, 2015

FARMINGTON, N.M. – No drinking, cooking or bathing with water from the Animas River. Those are the rules now in place in Farmington, New Mexico, following the Gold King Mine spill in Colorado.

Three million gallons of toxic sludge escaped into the Animas, part of the larger Colorado River system.

Shana Reeves with the City of Farmington says, as of Monday, the waters of the Animas River were still orange. Despite the water use ban, Reeves says the city is fortunate to have water reserves.

"We do have 90 days sitting in Lake Farmington," she says. "If we need to go further than that, we have means of drawing from other sources rather than just the Animas."

According to Reeves, the city's water sources are the Animas and San Juan rivers, which merge near Farmington. The water use ban also applies to farmers who use the river for irrigation and livestock-watering.

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.

Reeves says the American Red Cross and other organizations are distributing drinking water in the community. She adds there's a concern the spill may devastate the rest of the summer tourism season in the area, which is directly tied to the river.

"We just started our branding campaign and one of our taglines is, 'Farmington is a place where outdoor lovers and active families thrive,'" she says. "It's the heart of our recreation, and it's the heart of our community."

Reeves says the EPA has not indicated, even in general terms, how long the ban on using Animas River water will last – and there are questions about the effects the contamination may have as it enters Lake Powell in Utah. Lake Powell and Lake Mead in Nevada are the two primary reservoirs for the Colorado River.

Troy Wilde, Public News Service - NM