Brennan Linsley, AP Photo, File

Storm knocks out mine's treatment plant, threatens contamination in Four Corners region

By Associated Press | Posted - Mar 16th, 2019 @ 10:50pm



DENVER — New Mexico officials have told some municipal drinking water systems to stop using water from two rivers after the weather-related failure of a mine wastewater treatment plant upstream in Colorado.

The New Mexico Environment Department said Friday anyone who uses the San Juan and Animas rivers for drinking water or irrigation should take appropriate precautions, but it did not say what those precautions might be.

Meanwhile, employees from Utah’s Department of Environmental Quality, along with teams from U.S. Geological Study field offices in Moab and New Mexico, are headed to the Four Corners and Mexican Hat regions to take water samples, the DEQ said in a news release Saturday.

The San Juan River flows through extreme southeast Utah.

The winter storm that blasted through the West last week knocked out the wastewater treatment plant for Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado on Thursday night, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said.

New Mexico officials announced Saturday afternoon that it received word from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the facility was back up and running.

The mine was discharging approximately 300 gpm of acid mine waste into Cement Creek. It is expected that teams will not be able to restore operations to normal until the snow is cleared away enough to reach the treatment plant.

Because of the shutdown, Utah DEQ teams will be on site next week to monitor the release and help test water and sediment from the rivers.

The EPA, which oversees the wastewater plant, said it doesn't believe drinking water will be harmed.

The EPA said a long-term shutdown could affect fish and other aquatic life.

Operators have not been able to reach the plant because the access road is blocked by at least one avalanche, and it could take several days to clear the route, EPA spokeswoman Cynthia Peterson said.

The plant can be operated remotely and no one was at the site when the avalanche occurred.

The plant was installed after the EPA inadvertently triggered a wastewater spill from the Gold King in 2015, contaminating rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

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