Heavy rains Tuesday caused an overflow at the Environmental Protection Agency’s temporary treatment plant north of Silverton, releasing discolored water into Cement Creek.
An internal alert was sent Aug. 23 among EPA staff members and some local officials, but the EPA did not notify media and the public about the spillage.
“Cement Creek is flowing turbid and discolored due to heavy rains at the Gold King Mine Site,” Brent Maier, congressional liaison for the EPA, wrote in an email with a subject line “Gold King Mine/Cement Creek Alert.”
“This additional water has overwhelmed the recirculation pumps that normally recirculate treated water that has seeped from the sediment filter bags, as the water can contain residual treatment solids. The treated water overflowed the sediment filter bag pad for a short period of time.”
Christie St. Clair, a spokeswoman with the EPA, said in a statement issued Thursday night procedures in the Gold King Mine Stakeholders Alert and Notification Plan were followed during the Aug. 23 heavy rains, and government officials were properly notified.
“Discharged water and solids that entered Cement Creek had been treated with lime and consisted of precipitated metals in the form of metal hydroxides which will quickly settle out of the creek. The incident was resolved in about 2 hours,” she stated in an email.
Brian Devine, surface and drinking water manager at the San Juan Basin Health Department, said public health and emergency management personnel received the alert Tuesday, and determined that increased flows were negligible, and required no further action.
“It never reached a level where we needed to send out a public notice,” Devine said.
La Plata County Emergency Management Director Butch Knowlton said based on the volume of the overflow, irrigation ditches, drinking water and recreational uses out of the Animas River were not affected.
Devine said the health department tracked water quality data in Cement Creek and the Animas River, and levels were consistent with a heavy rain event in the basin.
Officials with the city of Farmington did not have information immediately available on that state’s reaction to the overflow.
Lack of public notification led to widespread rumors this week, with some residents along the watershed fearing that a major breach, and even a complete failure, occurred at the temporary plant used to treat wastewater from the Gold King Mine. A blowout at the mine on Aug. 5, 2015, dumped 3 million gallons of mine wastewater into the creek. The water-treatment plant was built in the wake of the spill.
The San Juan County, New Mexico, Office of Emergency Management on its Facebook page Wednesday posted a “Gold King Mine Rumor information” notice.
“There is no new spill event! Ditches that lead to drinking water intakes may have closed head gates as a precaution.
‘There are no irrigation concerns at this time’.”
Knowlton said any of the released water has likely passed Durango and other downstream communities.