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Montezuma Creek prepares for arrival of yellow mine waste

(Jim Mattingly/KSL-TV)


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MONTEZUMA CREEK — San Juan County officials trucked clean water into this Navajo Nation town Sunday as contamination from a Colorado mine washes down the San Juan River.

The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority shut off water pumps to Montezuma Creek and Aneth in anticipation of the wastewater plume hitting the river early Monday. Officials parked a 7,000-gallon tanker with potable water from Monticello at the Montezuma Creek fire station where residents filled bottles and jugs.

"We're helping as much as we can," said Kelly Pehrson, San Juan County administrator and emergency manager.

Families were allowed to take up to 25 gallons of water per day, he said. There also was water available for livestock.

Pehrson said the county intends to provide water for at least a couple of days. He said he hopes the Navajo utility authority would be able to turn the water on before school starts Thursday.

The National Park Service has asked people to avoid drinking, swimming or recreating on the San Juan River within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

The contamination, which originated from an abandoned mine in southwestern Colorado, reached northern New Mexico on Saturday. The mustard-colored wastewater continued to drain from the mine into the Animas River in Colorado at about 550 gallons per minute.

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The Animas runs into the San Juan River in New Mexico, and the San Juan flows into Utah, where it joins the Colorado River in Lake Powell. The contaminated water was expected to arrive at Lake Powell early this week.

The National Park Service also is asking people to avoid recreation on the San Juan River arm of Lake Powell, though it has not issued an alert for the entire lake.

Most river sediments will settle out of the water when the river current slows at Lake Powell, as is shown by the sediment deltas at the mouths of all rivers entering the lake, according to the National Park Service.

Some impacts to natural resources in the San Juan River and the lake are anticipated as contaminants settle into the sediment, park service officials said. People planning to recreate in the area should monitor the situation as more information becomes available.

Contributing: Keith McCord

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