Colorado Monday allocated $500,000 to assist in the cleanup and containment of 3 million gallons of wastewater released into the Animas River from a mine-related accident. The wastewater blowout occurred as the Environmental Protection Agency worked on an old mine in the southwest of the state five days ago.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper declared a disaster emergency for the river, which winds from Colorado into northern New Mexico and Utah. The emergency declaration frees $500,000 from its Disaster Emergency Fund. The river turned orange from the leak.
"Our priority remains to ensure public safety and minimize environmental impacts,” Hickenlooper said in a statement. “By declaring a disaster emergency, we are able to better support impacted businesses and communities with state resources. We will work closely with the EPA to continue to measure water quality as it returns to normal, but also to work together to assess other mines throughout the state to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
During the weekend, the sludge reportedly reached New Mexico.
The wastewater has been making its way toward Lake Powell, which is an important water source for much of the Southwest. The Navajo Nation, which spans New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, also has declared a state of emergency. Drinking water for the tribal land and affected areas has been hauled in for residents since the leak began last week.
EPA officials have yet to indicate if the heavy metals contained in the mines pose a significant threat to health or wildlife. Residents, however, are voicing their frustration with the spill and calling on the EPA to take responsibility for it.
Communities and farms along the river seem to be the most heavily impacted so far. The farms are without irrigation water (including, for example, a family farm in the region that serves 3,000 customers that has been completely without water). The impact on fish so far is reportedly minimal, as just one fish was found dead in the five days since the breach though officials were unsure if the fish was killed by heavy metals in the water.