The Animas River has been closed to all watercraft as of 3 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 6, because of the contamination of the Animas River from a spill of mining waste.
La Plata County Sheriff Sean Smith issued an order pursuant to CRS 33-13-111 and 112, closing the Animas River to all watercraft including canoes, kayaks, tubes, rafts and other flotation devices from the north County line (San Juan County, Colorado) to the south County line (at the Colorado/New Mexico State line) until further notice. Furthermore, all such watercraft must be removed from the Animas River within the locations cited above, according to the La Plata County web site.
“This Order shall remain in effect until it is determined that the river is safe,” Smith said in a release. “EPA test results of the Animas River are expected within 24-48 hours, and the Order will be re-evaluated at that time.”
Meanwhile, the City of Durango is reassuring its water utility customers that their tap water is safe for consumption because all pumping of raw water from the Animas River was discontinued Wednesday, Aug. 5. The Utilities Department continues to draw raw water from the Florida River, which was not affected by the release of waste water from the Gold King Mine, according to information in a release. However, the water taken from the Florida River is not enough to meet the daily demands during the summer months and is usually supplemented with water from the Animas River. Because the city will not begin pumping water from the Animas River until notified that it is safe to do so, residents are asked to immediately take steps to reduce their water usage and discontinue all outdoor watering until further notice.
A Call Center has been set up for the public at 970-385-8700.
The spill reportedly occurred when an EPA and State Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety team working to investigate and address contamination at the Gold King Mine in San Juan County, Colo., unexpectedly triggered a large release of mine waste water into the upper portions of Cement Creek, which feeds into the Animas. Initial estimates are that the release contained approximately 1 million gallons of water that was held behind unconsolidated debris near an abandoned mine portal. There were several workers at the site at the time of the breach, all were unharmed.
The acidic mine water associated with the release contains high levels of sediment and metals. EPA teams are conducting sampling and visual observations will be monitoring river conditions over the next several days. The water associated with the release is highly discolored.
All agricultural water users have been notified to shut off water intake. It is recommended that pet owners keep their dogs and livestock out of the Animas River until further testing can be done to determine the content of the waste water.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife is reportedly monitoring the impacts to the fish and other wildlife in the Animas River.