The city of Durango and La Plata County in Colorado both proclaimed a State of Local Emergency on Sunday after wastewater from an abandoned mine leaked into the Animas River, turning the water orange and yellow.
The incident on Aug. 5 was triggered by work being done by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to investigate contamination at the Gold King Mine in San Juan County, Colorado. Approximately 1 million gallons of acidic wastewater accidentally spilled from the mine while a safety team was working with heavy equipment to secure access to the polluted water, EPA spokesman Richard Mylott explained.
Officials advised people to stay away from the river water, which may contain zinc, iron, copper and other heavy metals.
The city of Durango uses the Animas River as a source of municipal water. Following the spill, water intakes on the river were shut down.
As a result the local drinking water is safe for consumption, but residents have been asked to reduce their water usage and discontinue all outdoor watering until further notice because the water taken from the Florida River alone is not enough to meet daily demands during the summer months.
In declaring a State of Local Emergency on Sunday, the City and County activated the response and recovery aspects of their local disaster emergency plans, allowing resources to be shared among responding agencies.
“This action has been taken due to the serious nature of the incident and to convey the grave concerns that local elected officials have to ensure that all appropriate levels of state and federal resources are brought to bear to assist our community not only in actively managing this tragic incident but also to recover from it,” said Joe Kerby, La Plata County Manager.