When you think of any river in Colorado more than likely what comes to mind is pristine running water, but that’s not the case with the Animas River today it looks like a cesspool of orange murk. The Environmental Protection Agency believes this orange-colored water consists of toxic metals including arsenic, lead, zinc, copper, aluminum and cadmium. San Juan County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter declared a state of emergency on Friday night.
Along with the state of emergency, the agency closed access to the Animas River throughout the county. According to the Daily Times on August 8, the EPA assistant regional administrator, Martin Hestmark, said that there is probably a “couple hundred” gallons per minute still finding its way into the river. The agency, which cannot confirm the amount of toxic waste already in the water, is under fire today for waiting 24-hours before notifying the communities impacted by this plume of toxic waste.
CNN News reports in an update on Saturday morning that “a federal cleanup crew accidentally caused a big and potentially hazardous mess in Colorado.” Locals and their pets and livestock are told to avoid this water by officials. This toxic water spilled out of an abandoned mine in Southern Colorado on Wednesday, which is what is making the water orange.
When a team from the EPA investigated the Gold King Mine north of Silverton, Colorado, on Wednesday they found a breached a wall of sediment releasing at least 1 million gallons of contaminated water. This was the origin of this orange mass of pollution. Officials report the waste flowed down a creek that is in the mining town and empties into the Animas River.
From what officials are saying today, this is some very dangerous orange water. New Mexico Environment Department Cabinet Secretary Ryan Flynn identified the mine as a federal Superfund site. This means it is “severely contaminated” and he said estimates of the amount of contaminated water released will increase. At a briefing on Friday in Aztec, Flynn also said:
“I can tell you that it was much more than a million gallons. The amount of contamination that was visible today — it was staggering.”
State and local officials hopped on board a helicopter to inspect the river from the air and found that this trail of orange polluted water was more than 45 miles long. By 7 a.m. on Saturday morning the water would have reached Berg Park in Farmington.
Residents who drink from well water are offered water testing for free if you are within the floodplains. They provided a map of that area at sjcoem.com. The testing is being done at the San Juan Country Fair from Monday through Saturday and once again it is free. Portable water stations were also set up for the areas and officials ask that people and their pets “avoid contact with the water.” They warn not to let livestock drink water from the river and fishing is not allowed until further notice.