Colorado's Animas River isn't always bright orange, but that's how it looks today after the EPA accidentally spilled a million gallons of mine waste into a tributary. Officials in San Juan County say state officials and the EPA were actually trying to access contaminated water at Gold King Mine in southwest Colorado on Wednesday when they "unexpectedly triggered a large release of mine waste water into the upper portions of Cement Creek," report Time and the Durango Herald. The acidic water—described by one witness as "the filthiest yellow mustard water you've ever seen"—contains sediment and metals that could irritate the skin, reports the AP. There's no risk to drinking water, but residents of communities along the river have been urged to cut back on water usage until the plume moves on.
Yesterday the plume reached Durango, Colo., which had stopped pumping water out of the river on Wednesday. "It's really, really ugly," says a La Plata County official. "Any kind of recreational activity on the river needs to be suspended." The waste is now making its way to New Mexico, as the Animas River meets up with the San Juan River in that state before the San Juan joins the Colorado River in Utah. Officials have placed cages of fish in the river to identify any ill effects and are testing the water to identify the specific metals released. An expert guesses the water contains high concentrations of iron, aluminum, cadmium, zinc, and copper, based on previous contamination. It may also contain mercury, lead, and arsenic, he says, "but there's no evidence of that at this point." (One Texas town recently experienced a creepy water problem.)