Officials say analyzing test results will be the next key step in addressing the toxic mine waste water that contaminated the Animas River.
Butch Knowlton, director of the Office of Emergency Management for La Plata County, said the county is working with Environmental Protection Agency officials on water testing, which is expected by Friday afternoon. A mobile laboratory was expected to arrive Thursday night to analyze samples.
“We’re going to be busy,” Knowlton said. “It was quite an event, especially because it’s been slow to happen and slow to move, which gives us time to get ahead of it.”
Once samples have been analyzed, the county can work with the city on domestic water supply. Durango Utilities Director Steve Salka said his immediate next step is to get residents to conserve water so drinking water doesn’t run out.
The city currently takes about 5.3 million gallons of water per day from the Florida River, which was not affected. Salka said if the city can get water use down to about 5.3 million gallons per day, then the city won’t need to draw water from the contaminated Animas River, and supplies should hold.
Salka said there’s not much the city’s utilities department can do right now.
“I need to know what’s in this stuff ... ” Salka said. “Until they can answer all of our questions, I don’t know what to do. ... They have to answer the tough questions now.”
Knowlton said the public needs to understand that it will take a long time for the water to move through, adding that purification is a mostly natural process that takes time. He was optimistic by the fact that some of the solids had already settled out of the water by Thursday evening.
Once the immediate contamination has been addressed, officials can then turn to more long-term concerns, such as impacts to fish and wildlife. Biologists with Colorado Parks and Wildlife were involved Thursday evening, according to Knowlton.
“I’m anxious to hear what their comments are going to be in regard to that,” he said. “We all take pride in our fishery and hope that it doesn’t impact that.”