Colorado mine spills pollution into Animas River

Dan Schwartz
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — A dam that was holding back water contaminated by a mine in southwest Colorado burst yesterday afternoon releasing a surge of orange colored pollution into the Animas River.

Officials expect the contamination will flow through the Farmington area tomorrow morning.

"It's not going to look pretty, but it's not a killer," San Juan County Emergency Manager Don Cooper said.

He stressed that people should not panic because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has told the county that the spill will not harm humans. He said the primary pollutants were iron and zinc.

Farmington officials activated their emergency operations center at about 10:30 a.m. today and shortly after that closed intake pumps along the river, Farmington Police Department spokeswoman Georgette Allen said.

Aztec City Manager Josh Ray said that city closed its pumps along the river and dropped a gate to a ditch to prevent river water from flowing into its three water treatment plants at about 6 p.m. yesterday.

San Juan County area water user and ditch companies have been notified of the incident and will be taking precautionary measures, according to a press release from Michele Truby-Tillen, county Emergency Management flood plain manager.

San Juan County residents, pet owners, and livestock owners, are encouraged to avoid contact with the Animas River and the San Juan River below the confluence with the Animas River until the mine water discoloration has passed, Truby-Tillen said.

According to a city of Farmington press release, the dam burst in the Gold King Mine above Silverton, Colo., yesterday afternoon.

Emergency management officials expect the bulk of the pollution will reach the state line between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. tomorrow morning, according to the press release. They expect it will flow through Farmington sometime tomorrow evening, according to the release.

Photos of the spill show orange water flowing down the Animas River at Bakers Bridge north of Durango.

EPA officials did not immediately respond to a Daily Times request for an interview.

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606.