Environment

Tribes and states work together to monitor water after mine spill






From left: Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy and Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez, examine conditions on the San Juan River last week. Photo from Navajo Nation OPVP Russell Begaye And Jonathan Nez / Facebook

The Southern Ute Tribe, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and the Navajo Nation will work with the states of Colorado, New Mexico and Utah to monitor water conditions in the wake of the Gold King Mine disaster.

An August 2015 spill at the abandoned mine in Colorado caused at least 3 million gallons of toxic waste to flow into the river system. While the Environmental Protection Agency has insisted that water conditions have returned to pre-incident levels, the tribes and the states are preparing for the spring and summer runoff.

"Spring 2016 will be the first snowmelt runoff season in the Animas and San Juan watersheds after the GKM spill," the partners wrote in a plan released on Thursday. "In addition to public health and safety hazards that typically occur in flood events, there is the additional concern about heavy metal contamination in the watershed."

The EPA, meanwhile, issued its own monitoring plan of the river system. It covers some of the same sites that the tribes and the states are looking at.

High levels of toxic and dangerous chemicals were detected after the August 5, 2015, incident in waters that serve agricultural, cultural and recreational needs on the three tribe's reservations and in the states. Farmers on the Navajo Nation lost crops because they didn't have access to clean water. The drinking water supply, though, was not impacted.

The EPA has accepted responsibility for causing the spill but tribal and state officials, along with members of Congress, have not been completely happy with the agency's response.

Get the Story:
States ready if melting snow kicks up metals from mine spill (AP 3/24)
Colorado Democrats pushing Congress to act on leaking mines while EPA plans new work (The Denver Post 3/25)
EPA releases final water-monitoring plan related to Gold King Mine spill (The Durango Herald 3/25)

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