The Environmental Protection Agency said Sunday the amount of waste water that spilled from the Gold King Mine and turned the Animas River orange was three times its original estimate.
Shaun McGrath, administrator from the EPA Region 8 Office, said three million gallons of the toxic water laced with heavy metals spilled into Cement Creek last Wednesday. McGrath said the agency updated its initial estimate of one million gallons after checking a U.S.G.S. stream gauge on Cement Creek.
Sunday marked five days since an EPA team mistakenly released the waste water from the abandoned Gold King Mine in Silverton. The orange plume was still moving at about 500 feet per minute, thinning as it reached areas near Farmington, New Mexico.
“These problems happen all the time,” said Mark Williams, a geography professor at the University of Colorado. “Almost every abandoned mine has the potential for that situation.”
Williams is expert on mountain hydrology and hydrochemistry. He said acid mine drainage happens at other sites in Colorado, and he’s worked with the EPA to stop it. At sites in Creede and Rico, Williams said he used tracers, fluorescent dyes and various salts, to figure out how areas of the mine are connected.
“We learn about the hydrology,” Williams said. “How the water gets into the mine and try to turn it off or move it somewhere else where it’s not a problem.”
For now, the problem is still flowing down the Animas River in southern Colorado. Sunday afternoon, the city of Durango and La Plata County declared a State of Local Emergency.
“This action has been taken due to the serious nature of the incident and to convey the grave concerns that local elected officials have to ensure that all appropriate levels of state and federal resources are brought to bear to assist our community not only in actively managing this tragic incident but also to recover from it,” said Joe Kerby, La Plata County Manager.
The EPA said Sunday crews were treating the discharge from the Gold Creek Mine in a series of settling ponds. The agency said it was raising the acidity of the water and adding different solutions to break down the metals in the ponds.
Mike King with the Department of Natural Resources said Gov. John Hickenlooper verbally declared the waste spill a state disaster, and that he would make $500,000 available for resources.
There’s no estimation for when the river may reopen. There’s a concern that toxic sediment could sink into the bottom of the riverbed — something that could potentially be brought back up when a storm comes months or even years down the line.
The EPA has made bottled water available for those who aren’t on the city of Durango’s water supply.