The Colorado River has turned completely yellow after a federal mine cleanup crew spilled one million gallons of toxic waste into it from the old Gold King Mine, but never fear the drinking water remains clear.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a cleanup team was working with heavy equipment earlier this week to secure an entrance to the unused gold mine when they accidentally released the orange-yellow goop into Cement Creek which runs around Silverton, Colorado and into the Animas River before flowing into the San Juan River in New Mexico and joining the Colorado River in Utah.
Although the water now contains a high volume of iron and zinc, officials said it should not affect residents’ drinking water but could kill many fish and other animals that live off the river now that the water has become 100 times more acidic.
The project was intended to pump and treat the water and reduce metal pollution that flows out of the mine, but did the exact opposite.
The neighboring areas impacted by the spill are taking precautions until the discoloration passes.
As the water made its way to Durango the La Plata County health officials warned rafters and other residents to avoid the water and they stopped pumping water from the Animas River to make sure none of the waste would be sucked into the city reservoir.
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In Farmington, New Mexico officials shut down water supply intake pumps to avoid contamination and also advised their residents to stay out of the water.
“It's really, really ugly,' Butch Knowlton, La Plata County's director of emergency preparedness, told The Durango Herald. “Any kind of recreational activity on the river needs to be suspended.”
Although officials and the EPA have said the primary contaminants are iron and zinc and therefore aren’t a serious danger to people, citizens are still concerned about what other pollutants are also in the water that could be more harmful and an estimated time to expect that it will pass.
No workers were harmed during the spill, but the filthy yellow muck is causing concern and fear throughout the communities where the water travels, such as New Mexico where the governor doesn’t believe they have received enough information from the EPA to effectively advise citizens.