A mine spill into the Animas River was reported late Wednesday.
Christina Progess, the Environmental Protection Agency’s lead for the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site, said the size and scope of the spill north of Silverton is yet to be determined. The EPA sent crews out Thursday morning to the site to learn more.
Progess said crews with the Bureau of Land Management notified the EPA on Wednesday night the Silver Wing Mine, north of Eureka, was releasing mine wastewater into the Animas River, causing discoloration of the waterway.
Although the Silver Wing Mine is included in the Bonita Peak Superfund, no work has been done at the site, Progess said.
The EPA did not know as of Thursday afternoon what caused the release. Crews with Mountain Studies Institute have been sent to the site to monitor the release and test for water quality.
“We know there’s been discoloration in the Animas River,” Progess said, “but we don’t know what that means in terms of impacts to water quality.”
The EPA sent out an emergency notification Thursday morning.
Access to the site has become extremely difficult, Progess said, because a bridge to the mine that crossed the Animas River was wiped out by an avalanche last winter.
The owner of the mine, Steve Fearn, died in April 2018.
Peter Butler, one of the founders of the now-defunct Animas River Stakeholders Group, said the Silver Wing Mine historically has discharged acid mine drainage from its portal.
The Silver Wing Mine was identified in the Stakeholders Group’s list of the top 33 mine portals and 34 mine waste piles that account for 90% of the heavy-metal loading in the Animas River watershed.
“It’s definitely one that could use attention,” Butler said.
Anthony Edwards, a community liaison for the Superfund site for the state of Colorado, said he visited the area around 11 a.m. Thursday. He said it appeared the Silver Wing Mine was discharging more mine waste than normal, which caused sludge to flow downstream.
Edwards, who said he’s had some involvement with the Silver Wing Mine over the years, said it appears the sides of the river were stained and had sediment, though he did not notice an obvious discoloration in the river.
Brian Devine, water and air quality program manager for San Juan Basin Public Health, said the health department is aware of the situation and ready to respond if necessary. Jarrod Biggs with the city of Durango’s utilities department did not return a call late Thursday.
The New Mexico Environment Department sent out a news release that said the department is closely monitoring real-time data from the river in Colorado and New Mexico, “which do not currently indicate any evidence of water quality impacts that could affect human health and the environment.”
“EPA has not issued notice to close municipal drinking water supplies that use the Animas River, but the cities of Farmington and Aztec and Lower Valley Water Users Association have shut off water intakes to municipal drinking supplies in an abundance of caution.”