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Officials Uncertain Whether Mine Waste Has Reached Lake Powell

Jerry McBride/Durango Herald

The toxic plume from the Gold King Mine spill in Colorado last week is no longer visible as it’s mixed with the murky San Juan River. Officials say it’s uncertain whether the polluted water has reached Lake Powell. Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports.

The mine waste that leaked into Colorado’s Animas River contains two-dozen metals including arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says water testing is ongoing, and there’s no timeframe for when or if it’ll blend with Lake Powell.

Several communities along the San Juan have stopped using it for drinking as well as irrigation and livestock. The Navajo Nation is asking for water donations as it faces a severe shortage. Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and the Navajo Nation have declared states of emergency because of the spill, and the EPA has released half-a-million dollars to provide aid.

Officials with Glen Canyon National Recreation Area say there are no closures in effect for the lake. But the EPA is warning the public not drink from the San Juan River that feeds Lake Powell. They’re also recommending anyone who comes in contact with river water to wash off immediately.

Ryan Heinsius joined the KNAU newsroom as executive producer in 2013 and was named news director and managing editor in 2024. As a reporter, he has covered a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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