While the data shows things continue to get better along the waterways affected by the Gold King Mine spill, toxic water is still draining at the rate of 600 gallons per minute from the mine, officials said during the daily Environmental Protection Agency briefing Saturday.
If that sounds like a lot, it is. Six hundred gallons times 60 minutes per hour times 24 hours per day comes out to 864,000 gallons each day.
Construction began Thursday on another settling pond at the Gold King Mine, this one to allow crews to manage the sludges that have settled out the series of four ponds already built, the EPA said in response to a question from the Herald.
“A commercial water-treatment system will be implemented on site as part of short-term actions for water treatment,” the EPA said. “Planning is in place for a treatment solution that includes piping discharge to a lower mine site with a better location for water treatment to continue into the fall. Longer-term treatment needs and options are being evaluated.”
Though La Plata County Sheriff Sean Smith opened the Animas River to recreation Friday, while issuing a health advisory, and the city of Durango began intaking water from the river for the first time since Aug. 6, a lot of locals aren’t convinced.
Numerous commenters on the Herald’s website questioned the speed of the reopening and intake.
“Seriously? The water is safe, but don’t get the sediment on you?” asked Thespina Diaz. “How do children, dogs, tubers and so on get into the river without touching the bottom?”
Meanwhile, Saturday’s briefing focused mostly on the numbers. While the numbers people have been most interested in to date have been regarding water quality and sediment toxicity, the EPA took the opportunity to tout the resources it’s deployed for the incident.
The agency has brought in more than 210 employees and contractors for its response, and the U.S. Coast Guard has provided 14 responders. The effort is a bureaucratic challenge, with 20 federal, state and local agencies involved in the response in some way.
New Mexico recovering
On Saturday, New Mexico announced private domestic well water use along the Animas River can resume based on tests by both the EPA and the state’s Environment Department.
New Mexico also announced a plan to flush irrigation ditches for 12 hours before normal watering, and irrigation could begin later Saturday, the EPA said.
Questions asked by reporters at the briefing included:
It has been said since the beginning there will be an independent investigation of the incident. Who is conducting it?
Is there or is there not a connection to the Sunnyside Mine’s American Tunnel closure to the amount of water and the toxicity of it in the Gold King Mine?
Reporters are still struggling to understand the responsibility the mine owner had for cleaning up the site. Why was the EPA doing it?
On Saturday, to provide more information to the public, the EPA created a blog at goldkingminerelease.blogspot.com that will include answers to frequently asked questions, and a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/goldkingminerelease in addition to its website at www2.epa.gov@goldkingmine. None of those questions were answered on the blog.