The Environmental Protection Agency says a wastewater spill from an abandoned mine in southwestern Colorado into the Animas River is much larger than originally estimated. The agency said the amount of heavy-metal-laced water that leaked from the Gold King Mine into the river, turning the water a mucky orange and then yellow, is three times larger than its initial estimate. The EPA now says 3 million gallons of wastewater spilled Wednesday and Thursday, not 1 million; the revision came after the EPA used a stream gauge from the US Geological Survey. The agency has so far been unable to determine whether humans or aquatic life face health risks. However, an EPA toxicologist says the sludge moved so quickly after the spill that it would not have "caused significant health effects" to animals that consumed the water.
The discolored water from the spill stretched more than 100 miles from where it originated near Colorado's historic mining town of Silverton into the New Mexico municipalities of Farmington, Aztec, and Kirtland. The leading edge of the plume was headed toward Utah and Montezuma Creek near the town of Bluff, a tourist destination. Local officials were preparing to shut down two wells that serve Montezuma Creek, says the deputy GM for the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority. To keep water flowing to homes, the residential tank in Halchita has been filled with clean water hauled 40 miles from Arizona. Back in Colorado where the spill started, the EPA plans to meet with residents of Durango, which is downstream from the mine; EPA water tests near Durango are still being analyzed. The EPA has not said how long cleanup efforts will take. (Read more EPA stories.)