Aug. 17, 2015 -- After releasing an estimated 3 million gallons of contaminated water from the Gold King Mine into the Animas River at the beginning of August, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released an official update on its response efforts.
The Gold King Mine is releasing water at the rate of approximately 600 gallons per minute. Water is captured and treated at a system of pounds before being discharged to Cement Creek.
EPA currently has deployed more than 210 employees and contractors for the response. Likewise, the U.S. Coast Guard has provided 14 responders. There are also currently at least 20 different federal, state and local agencies involved in the response working to help ensure the health and safety of the public.
Irrigation ditches drawing from the Animas River in Colorado have been flushed and continue to come back online to meet water needs. Water quality data show water meets criteria for agricultural purposes established by the state of Colorado. EPA teams continue to collect water samples in the Animas River and in shallow, domestic private wells adjacent to the river.
Farmington, New Mexico
In New Mexico, EPA has a team of 69 people consisting of federal on-scene coordinators, water quality experts, technicians, and contractors supporting the response to the spill. Daily information meetings at the Farmington Convention Center resumed on Monday, Aug. 17.
New Mexico recently announced its determination that drinking water systems and recreational activity along the Animas and San Juan rivers can resume based on water quality sampling results collected by both New Mexico Environment Department and the EPA. Reopening drinking water system intakes and allowing recreational activities is a state and local decision. Sampling results from the river collected last week similarly show that water quality conditions are returning toward pre-event conditions.
EPA continues to collect water samples from nine locations in San Juan River near intakes for Aztec, Farmington, Lower Valley Water Users Association, Morning Star Water Supply System, and the North Star Water User Association. The Agency will continue to sample, analyze and make data available to support local decision makers to make the best informed decisions. Validated sampling data for the Animas and San Juan Rivers from the Northern Border of New Mexico to Navajo Nation collected from Aug. 9 to 10 has been released.
New Mexico also announced that private domestic well water use along the Animas River can resume based on water quality sampling results collected by both New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and the EPA. The Agency and NMED recently collected 25 water quality samples from private domestic wells. Additionally, the state reopened irrigation ditches along the Animas River for normal irrigation and livestock watering operations. EPA delivered water to three livestock locations.
EPA recently released additional water quality data from Aug. 7 to 11 on the San Juan River between Farmington and Shiprock, N.M. The August 7 data was collected for baseline purposes to understand river conditions at the Hogback monitoring location, prior to the impact from the Gold King Mine release (see "EPA to release water quality data for Animas, San Juan Rivers after mine spill"). To assess the impacts of the release at the Gold King Mine, water quality samples were collected at four locations. Each surface water sample was analyzed for 24 metals including arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury.
Due to the highly variable conditions typical of this segment of the river, additional testing will be conducted, and EPA continues to work closely with the Navajo Nation EPA on assessing drinking water, agriculture, livestock, and other critical water needs. Water quality testing continues with surface water and sediment sampling and monitoring (pH, conductivity, turbidity) along the San Juan River in the Navajo Nation at 11 monitoring sites.
EPA Region 9 participated in a public meeting attended by approximately 150 officials and residents from four Navajo Nation chapters and other senior Navajo Nation officials, including Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez and Navajo Nation Attorney General Ethel Branch. Community members raised concerns regarding reimbursement claim Form 95, data availability, water availability for livestock, agriculture and human consumption, and short and long-term health impacts from river exposure.
The Navajo Nation has identified 13 locations for EPA to distribute water for agriculture and livestock use and continues providing over 16,000 gallons of non-potable water per day to each of these locations. The Agency also continues to provide hay/alfalfa bales to Navajo Nation chapter locations for livestock needs.
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