• Utah Join Independent Effort to Monitor Water Quality after Gold King Mine Disaster

Water/Wastewater

Utah Join Independent Effort to Monitor Water Quality after Gold King Mine Disaster

Apr 05 2016

Utah has joined a growing list of disgruntled states who are unhappy with the manner in which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has handled the Gold King Mine disaster last year. In summer 2015, almost 400 tonnes of heavy metals were released into the Animas River after a collapse in the mine, prompting fears that nearby water supplies would become contaminated.

In the intervening months, several states have become so impatient and unsatisfied with the efforts of the EPA in monitoring the river that they have set up their own initiative to safeguard the citizens living in towns and cities downstream of the accident.

An Independent Monitoring System

Monitoring water quality levels is important at the best of times, but in the wake of last summer’s disaster, it has taken on a new dimension for the states living in close vicinity to the mine. Utah is the latest state to join with New Mexico and Colorado, along with the Navajo Nation, in demanding better sampling of the affected rivers.

The conglomerate hope to collect samples from the Animas River and the nearby San Juan River on a weekly basis and have them assessed for heavy metal content, including cadmium, copper, lead and zinc.

They also wish to gather real-time information on the turbidity of both rivers to determine how much sediment is passing through them at any given time. This will be achieved via the installation of a series of multiple sensors and probes - much like the remote water quality monitors mentioned here – at key locations along the rivers.

In this manner, the concerned states hope to be aware of any impending influx of sediment into their water supplies and make the relevant warnings to residents and preparations for alternative drinking water supplies.

Unhappy with the EPA

Though the EPA met with the states at the beginning of March to thrash out a firm plan of action, pledging to provide $2 million towards the initiative, such steps have done little to appease some of the officials involved.

On the one hand, officials from the state of New Mexico claim that the EPA have been misconstruing or distorting the actual effects of the mine disaster. Ryan Flynn, who is the environment secretary for New Mexico, says that the EPA are using a different set of standards to require governmental action than they normally do, and that they have claimed downstream ditches had not been affected when they actually had.

“I don't believe they are manipulating the samples or the results,” Flynn explained. “But when it comes to communicating those results, the EPA is totally misleading the public and the states about what is actually occurring.”

Secondly, Flynn and his Utah counterpart Erica Gaddis were also critical of the low sum the EPA had pledged towards the monitoring operation. Utah has already spent $400,000 on monitoring equipment and recently committed to spending $200,000 more, while New Mexico struggled to find $100,000 to purchase its own monitoring apparatus.

“We are a poor state, and we have some real stress on our budget because of oil and gas prices,” Flynn went on, “but this mission is critical to protecting our communities.”

As a result, both Utah and New Mexico plan to sue the EPA for compensation and damages once the catastrophe has been averted. For now, though, the priority remains to make sure no sediment makes it into local drinking water supplies – especially with the imminence of snowmelt engendered by the arrival of spring.


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