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Toxic Spill Expected to Reach Lake Powell This Week

Office of Emergency Management in La Plata County Colorado

A massive wastewater spill from a Colorado mine is expected to reach Lake Powell sometime this week.

About three million gallons of wastewater poured into the Animas River last Wednesday after a breach at a defunct gold mine near Silverton. The contaminated water has reached the San Juan River in New Mexico, which flows into Lake Powell on the Colorado River. 

Cynthia Sequanna is a spokesperson for the National Park Service.

“While the contaminated levels and impacts anticipated at Lake Powell are not yet understood,” she says, “as a precautionary measure we are issuing a warning and encouraging visitors to avoid drinking, swimming or recreating on the San Juan arm within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.”

The Park Service has not issued an alert for the entire reservoir. Officials expect the contaminated sediment will settle to the bottom when the San Juan River slows down at Lake Powell.  They say it’s too early yet to know if the contamination will make its way to the main stem of the Colorado.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency accidentally triggered the spill while investigating the Gold King Mine. The agency reports the wastewater is acidic and contains arsenic, lead and other heavy metals.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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