Farmington installs sensors to safeguard against mine pollution

Dan Schwartz The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — City officials say crews will have finished installing sensors by this weekend that are designed to detect potential contamination in the Animas River and automatically shut down the city's two main pumps to Farmington Lake.

"There's just too many potential upstream problems," City Manager Rob Mayes said.

On Aug. 5, crews working for the Environmental Protection Agency dislodged debris from the mouth of the Gold King Mine north of Silverton, Colo., releasing 3 million gallons of toxic water into a creek that flows into the Animas River. A mustard-colored plume washed down the river.

Farmington officials closed the city's intake pumps along the Animas River the next morning when the EPA notified them of the spill, about 24 hours after it happened.

Mayes said if there's another spill, and communication breaks down again, he wants the city to have an automatic kill switch to its two main stations that pump water from the Animas River into Farmington Lake. He said the sensors are an added security measure and beyond best practices.

The two sensors cost the city approximately $100,000, "and we will be billing that to the EPA," Public Works Director David Sypher said.

Each sensor monitors for contaminants and conditions associated with mine waste. They check the water for electrical flow, acid levels, water clarity, hydrocarbons and dissolved levels of oxygen.

Sypher said the sensors are hard wired into the pumps.

"We want to add another layer of protection for our citizens, given the fact that some spills may occur at night or at times that you won't get notification," he said.

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and Follow him @dtdschwartz on Twitter.