Gold King Mine spill

EPA chief Scott Pruitt chartered private plane between Denver and Durango for Gold King Mine tour

DENVER – EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt opted to charter a private plane from Denver to Durango and turned down an offer from Gov. John Hickenlooper to ride on his state plane for the trip to the Gold King Mine in early August.

The governor’s office confirmed to Denver7 Wednesday that Pruitt had declined Hickenlooper’s invitation, but did not offer further comment. CBS News first reported Tuesday that Pruitt had used a private plane.

The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday, but told CBS News that Pruitt’s flight to Durango had been “significantly delayed” and that Pruitt didn’t want to miss the meeting outside of Durango. Continue reading

Colorado delegation, EPA administrator to tour Gold King Mine and host town hall Friday

DURANGO, Colo. – Several of Colorado’s top politicians will hold a joint town hall meeting Friday afternoon directly after they tour the Gold King Mine with Environmental Protection Agency staffers, including the agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt.

Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, Gov. John Hickenlooper, Rep. Scott Tipton and Durango Mayor Dick White will be among those attending the tour and subsequent town hall meeting, which will come a day before the two-year anniversary of the mine spill. Continue reading

EPA pays out $54K more to Colorado for Gold King Mine reimbursement costs

DENVER – Colorado and some local jurisdictions in the southwestern part of the state are getting fractions of what was initially sought in reimbursement money from the Environmental Protection Agency for the August 2015 Gold King Mine spill, but received another $54,000 Thursday.

The EPA said in January that it would not fully repay the 73 claims from both governments and private entities worth $1.2 billion for the spill, which was caused by EPA contractors and hampered communities in southwest Colorado, northwest New Mexico and southeast Utah for months. Continue reading

Colorado’s senators split votes on controversial EPA nominee Scott Pruitt, who is confirmed

WASHINGTON – Colorado’s U.S. senators split their votes on the president’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, who was confirmed by the Senate in a 52-46 vote.

Pruitt, who has been Oklahoma’s attorney general since he was elected in 2010, has faced scrutiny over his ties to the oil and gas industry and has filed 14 lawsuits against the EPA over water and air pollution regulations over his career. Continue reading

Silverton, San Juan Co. officials vote unanimously to begin process of applying for Superfund status

San Juan County and Silverton, Colorado officials voted unanimously Monday evening to begin the process of applying for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund status to clean up multiple mines in the area that are at risk of spilling into local water sources.

Their Monday votes means the next step is sending Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper a letter requesting he send a letter to the EPA that requests Superfund status.

The Durango Herald has reported there are 48 mines in southern Colorado that face similar situations as the Gold King Mine, which ruptured during EPA construction and spilled thousands of gallons of waste into local waterways.

Becoming a Superfund area would funnel millions of federal dollars to the area to help the at-risk mines, but a cleanup would still be years away. The EPA would have to analyze the problems at the mines before beginning work.

New Mexico officials will hold an information meeting for the public at San Juan College in Farmington Monday evening as well. They’ll update residents on what’s being done to ensure the water is safe a drinkable.

This story originally appeared at

Heavy metal levels nearly normal near Farmington; La Plata Co. tests sediment for toxins

New Mexico received some results of water testing Wednesday that showed heavy metal levels in the Animas River that were collected near Farmington Monday.

The results showed that all metal levels were at normal drinking water levels before the plume arrived and that they were all within normal standards, except for lead, when collected Monday. Allowable lead content is 15 micrograms per liter, and lead levels were at 15.4 micrograms per liter Monday. The state says it expects water quality to continue to improve in coming days.


In La Plata County, Colorado, well testing continued Wednesday, as did sediment testing.

La Plata County officials said EPA technicians took 19 sediment samples Tuesday and had shipped them all by Wednesday. Results from those samples are expected by Sunday, according to La Plata County.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment also collected its own sediment samples, which it expects results for Thursday.

CDPHE said Wednesday the city of Durango can start collecting water from the Animas River again to put in their treatment facilities and disperse to customers.

“Although we are all in agreement about the water quality results being back to pre-event levels, it is only prudent that we wait to have sediment testing results to ensure public safety prior to opening the river to recreation,” La Plata Co. Sheriff Sean Smith said.


EPA and La Plata Co. officials also began inspecting and flushing out selected irrigation ditches for farmers and ranchers. Once the flushes begin, La Plata County officials say they expect to see a “slight temporary change” in the color of the river.

Operators for ditches that take water from the Animas are asked to call 970-385-8700 between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. and provide their name and phone number so officials can coordinate opening the river gates. Individual water users are asked to keep their gates closed, and livestock owners are still being cautioned against watering their livestock with Animas water for the time being.


The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Missouri-based Environmental Restoration LLC was the contractor whose heavy machinery and workers caused the breach at the Gold King Mine in Silverton, citing an EPA official and government documents.

The EPA, which was overseeing the operation, had not previously named the contractor.

The Fenton, Mo.-based company did not return calls for comment to the Wall Street Journal.


Silverton Standard editor and publisher Mark Esper confirmed Wednesday a letter to the editor was published July 30 that predicted a “possible Superfund blitzkrieg” in the Silverton area.

A Farmington man who called himself Dave Taylor, who said he has been a geologist for 47 years, said the city and EPA were setting itself up for something like the Gold King Mine spill to happen, even saying a 500 gallon/minute flow would dump into Cement Creek.

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Navajo Nation: Signing EPA compensation form puts people at risk of forfeiting future compensation; attorney retorts

The Navajo Nation’s president and vice president are instructing its divisions dealing with the Gold King Mine spill and all people affected by it not to sign an Environmental Protection Agency form for compensation for land damage and personal injury from the spill.

Tuesday, the EPA opened up claim submissions for the incident via Standard Form 95, which is a claim for damage, injury, or death related to environmental hazards.

It said people could submit signed electronic versions of Standard Form 95 for the incident by emailing it to

The EPA says that although they have six months to resolve a claim, it “will make every effort” to respond to claims for this particular incident “as soon as possible.”

But Wednesday, Navajo President Russell Begaye sent a directive to cease any promotion of the form, saying it contains “offending language that will waive future claims for individuals that sign the form and preclude [Navajos] from seeking full compensation for injuries suffered from the spill.”

A disclaimer near the bottom of the first page of the form says: “I certify that the amount of claim covers only damages and injuries caused by the incident above and agree to accept said amount in full satisfaction and final settlement of this claim.”

The Navajo Nation directive says that if people sign the form, they forfeit any further compensation for damages suffered beyond the date it is signed, leaving the possibility that people affected years down the road will not receive any further compensation.

“The U.S. EPA has admitted they are at fault and stated this disaster will last for decades. This is unacceptable. The damages to our people will be long term and the Navajo Nation will not settle for pennies. I have consistently stated that the Navajo people deserve to be compensated for every penny lost. I will not allow fine print to let U.S. EPA off the hook. The Navajo people deserve better from the federal government,” said President Begaye.

“If we fill these out today, with no knowledge of what kind of heavy metal is in the river, what type of particulates is there we have no cause or reason to fill this out,’ said Joe Ben Jr., the Shiprock Chapter Farm Board Representative at a meeting of more than 100 farmers and ranchers Wednesday morning.

“For that reason I urge farmers ranchers of San Juan area of the Navajo Nation not to fill the form out,” he said.

It’s a long time to wait for farmers who are already feeling the hurt, not only financially but emotionally.

“Now my second cut is about 14 inches tall, it is devastating go into your fields to know that these crops, this crop will not mature,” said Ben.

“We have to carry on here, we have to carry on the farms,” said Hogback Farmer Wanda Benally.

“Hate to see it all go to waste,” said David Johnson, also of Hogback.

Wednesday, Hogback Chapter officials spoke with lawyers about the possibility of yet another lawsuit against the EPA, this one to compensate farmers across the valley.

The directive from President Begaye said the Navajo Nation Attorney General is trying to negotiate with the EPA to modify the form to remove the controversial language.

“Until done, we must ensure the public understands and is fully aware of the meaning of the language in the Form,” the directive reads. “If the person signs or not is the individual’s decision, but it must be an informed decision…the Navajo people deserve to be fully compensated.”

The EPA has yet to respond to the directive.


However, an Albuquerque-based attorney says the fears the Navajo Nation have raised are not entirely true.

“If they sign off saying, ‘I’m accepting a settlement,’ or they accept a check, then that’s where the problems can begin,” said John McCall, and Albuquerque based attorney. “If there are other possible ways they can be recovering more money.”

McCall says as long as you don’t accept and sign a final settlement offer, there’s nothing barring you from taking part in a class-action lawsuit later if you just fill out the form and turn it in.

He also says there’s no rush, since claimants have up to two years from the date on the incident to file the federal claim form.

“There are many other things that could happen,” he said. “The states of New Mexico, Utah and Colorado might file claims on behalf of their citizens. The Navajo tribe might file a claim. The Jicarilla Tribe might file a claim. There are many possible ways that claims can be filed. So people really need to be watching and seeing what the different government entities are doing. Even the City of Farmington might file a claim, for example.”

For many farmers, at this point, it’s too early to fill out the claim form because no one knows how bad the damages is yet and what the cost will be.

“It’s certainly a caution to accept a quick settlement if there could be potential long term damages that haven’t been assessed,” he said.

If you think you suffered significant damages from the spill you should contact a lawyer to help weigh your options for reimbursement.

-Originally published at

EPA calls for state help in water testing; Aztec residents hit hardest by contaminated water

Environmental Protection Agency scientists are still analyzing water and sediment tests following the mine spill into the Animas and San Juan rivers, but the trend appears to be improving, and heavy metal contamination levels seem to be declining.

Most of the leftover heavy metals seem to be sinking into the sediment of the riverbottom, where scientists say increased water flows could stir it up again, but also wash it further downstream. But upstream in Colorado, things are definitely looking better than they were late last week.

“A spike as the plume of mine water passed and returned to pre-incident levels…so in the water quality realm, we’re seeing conditions back to pretty much a pre-incident level here in the Durango area as the water clears up,” an EPA spokesperson said Tuesday.

Downstream in New Mexico, the plume was about 10 miles west of Farmington Tuesday afternoon, and scientists are still analyzing test data from the area.

“We’re hoping to have that data out as soon as possible – within the next 24 hours,” the EPA said.

It warns that the Gold King Mine is still leaking out contaminated water at more than 500 gallons per minute, but most of that water is being trapped in retention ponds that lower acidity levels.

Authorities have noted that the Animas has had some level of contamination for many decades – before the EPA existed – due to old mining operations.

An update from San Juan County and the Navajo Nation released Tuesday evening on where to get water, public meetings planned for Tuesday, and livestock information can be read here.


The EPA normally doesn’t cause the disasters they have to mop up, and are struggling to handle the role reversal.

The spill has local residents wondering not about the short-term effects, but rather what might happen years down the road.

“It’s the kids that really concern me,” Patricia Balew said.

Her family backs up to an irrigation ditch fed by the Animas. Family drinking water comes from the well, and Balew had hers tested Tuesday.

There’s still plenty of fear about what lurks beneath the surface of the Animas. Even state environment officials testing the water won’t touch it without plastic gloves.

Between Farmington and Durango Tuesday, rocks shone an eerie gold color – a hint of the sediment left behind.

Also Tuesday, state officials confirmed the EPA has admitted the federal government cannot undertake the massive operation alone, and has hired the New Mexico Environment Department to test area wells, with an EPA official or contractor at each site.

Seven testing teams were deployed by the NMED in conjunction with the EPA Tuesday.

“Although the Gold King Mine Spill’s heavy metals plume has mostly passed through the area, the sediments left behind are capable of influencing groundwater quality,” said New Mexico Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn.


What do you do if the water in your house can’t be used to drink, wash or really be used to do anything? Residents of San Juan County are finding out just how tough that can be this week.

“We have the water, but we can’t use it,” said Leslee Lobato. She is a lifelong resident of Aztec and lives in the house her grandmother made a home many years ago.

Tuesday Lobato took a sample of her well water to be tested for contamination.

“I didn’t even know and I found out yesterday to get my water checked. I have already taken a shower, I have already watered the dogs, and I’m like, ‘oh my gosh, nobody told me, I didn’t know,'” she said.

The New Mexico Environment Department is testing water for well users. All you have to do is drop off a sample of at least a quart and they will let you know if your water is safe to drink. But understandably, the wait is longer than residents would like.

Lobato was told it could take a week. The NMED says they have about 400 samples either being tested or in the process.

For people that can’t use the water, there are water stations across the county and places to shower if need be.

“I did take a shower this morning and I shouldn’t have because I probably have arsenic on me; I don’t know,” said Lobato.

Even though river water is looking clearer, officials say to stay away, and municipal water systems remain safe to drink.

“That’s our main water source. This county survives on the San Juan and Animas and I don’t know what we are going to do… I’m worried,”

So far Aztec is the only city with water restrictions. But other communities are encouraging conservation to make sure there is enough water to last through this crisis.

“We need more help.”

We have a full list of places to get safe water for free as well as locations with free shower here.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, Farmington Mayor Roberts, Bloomfield Mayor Eckstein and San Juan County officials will join Colorado and Utah’s attorney generals for a site visit and discussion of the Gold King Mine spill and the legal oversight that will be necessary for the future.

-Originally published at

NM Gov. Martinez declares state of emergency following gold mine waste spill

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez declared a state of emergency Monday to free up more state money to help communities surrounding the Animas River affected by an EPA-caused waste spill that happened Aug. 5 at a mining site near Silverton, Colorado.

Gov. Martinez’s order frees up $750,000 in additional state funds that will be used to test wells, study potential effects of the spill, support a multiagency response team in the area and fund further efforts.

The agency, which has been in place for days, will also remain in northwest New Mexico indefinitely to help local residents, as per Monday’s order.

The governor has also told administration officials to be prepared to take legal action against the EPA, likely in a broader lawsuit with others affected by the Gold King Mine.

“It breaks my heart that’s the way our state is looking right now,” Gov. Martinez said Monday. “We’re going to do absolutely everything to get back to the condition that it was in and we are going to hold EPA accountable for this.”

Gov. Martinez also said it took 24 hours before the state received a notice about the spill, which she said was troubling.

“This would have allowed farmers to get ahead of what was happening, and quickly. Water their fields, water their cows, get clean water. Whatever they needed from the Animas River before the spill got to them. It was too late. They couldn’t do that.”

The order also directs the Adjutant General to order New Mexico National Guard into service to provide support.


Monday, the city of Aztec was placed under Stage 1 water restrictions. Many in the Four Corners have been directed to buy or pick up water for free at other sites.

The New Mexico Environmental Department has made free water testing available to residents who have private wells within 1,000 feet of the Animas River.

An update from La Plata Co. officials on drinking water and water for livestock can be viewed here.


Also Monday, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper issued a disaster declaration after the spill, which was making its way to Lake Powell in Utah.

His declaration on Monday releases $500,000 to assist businesses and towns affected by the spill.

The Navajo Nation and San Juan County have also declared states of emergency.

The EPA released a collection of images of the spill both at the mine and downriver Monday. Most of the photos were taken Aug. 7.


The mine is one of several old mines near Silverton that were ideal candidates for the EPA’s Superfund cleanup list, but the town and La Plata County fought hard to stay off the list and succeeded – all in the idea of preserving the town’s reputation as a tourist spot.

Instead, the EPA would set aside $1.5 billion to plug leaks in the old mines, which is what they were doing at the Gold King Mine last Wednesday when a machine breached the plug.

The episode has inspired new discussions about getting on the Superfund list.

“The decision to list this under the national priorities list – the Superfund – is a decision that the EPA needs to make with the concurrence of the state and the local officials, and that’s a conversation that’s ongoing,” EPA Region 8 Director Shaun McGrath said Monday. “It does allow for potentially more extensive cleanup.”

The Superfund was created in federal law in 1980. Currently there are nearly 1,300 sites on the cleanup list.

Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry received a memo received from the New Mexico Environmental Health Department Monday saying that Albuquerque will not be affected by the plume.

Monday, following the Animas north from Farmington, the river remained a murky green – a far cry from the bright orange it was days earlier, but still not back to normal. However, the sediment from the plume seems to have simply dropped to the river bottom.

As for who is responsible for the spill, that still remains murky as well.

“We will have an independent investigation to see what happened,” said the EPA’s McGrath. “We’ll look back and we’ll be taking steps in the future to insure that we avoid these kinds of events.”

However, it is likely the taxpayers will foot the bill. There is a company that owns those old mines around Silverton, but they’re all abandoned. The Gold King itself hasn’t produced a nugget since 1923.

That’s 92 years ago – long before modern mining rules and regulations and laws were on the books. You just dug a hole and when you were done you walked away from it.

KOB reporters Devin Neeley, Stuart Dyson and Caleb James contributed to this report.

Dr. Kerry Howe, the Director of the Center of Water and Environment at the University of New Mexico, discussed the potential impacts of the heavy metals left over in the river Monday evening. If you’re on a mobile device, click here to watch.

-Originally published at