DURANGO, Colo., Aug. 10 (UPI) -- The spill of wastewater from an abandoned gold mine in southwest Colorado is triple the size the Environmental Protection Agency first estimated, officials said Sunday.
EPA agents unintentionally released 3 million gallons of contaminated water from the Gold King Mine into the Animas River on Wednesday during an inspection. They originally believed 1 million gallons of acidic water contaminated with zinc, iron, cooper and other heavy metals broke free of a barrier of unconsolidated debris.
The EPA revised its estimate Sunday at a community meeting in Durango, Colo, during which residents called for the federal agency to be held accountable for cleanup of the sludge.
Meanwhile, on Monday, Gov. John Hickenlooper declared a state of disaster emergency in response to the spill, allocating $500,000 to pay for response and technical assessments.
"Our priority remains to ensure public safety and minimize environmental impacts," Hickenlooper said in a statement. "By declaring a disaster emergency, we are able to better support impacted businesses and communities with state resources. We will work closely with the EPA to continue to measure water quality as it returns to normal, but also to work together to assess other mines throughout the state to make sure this doesn't happen again."
It's unclear what kind of environmental impact the spill will have on Colorado and now New Mexico as the contaminated water flows downstream.
Mustard yellow water flowed down the Animas River, changing its color and leaving a thick sediment that stretched south to Durango. The EPA said it would be collecting samples of the river water and conducting visual observations to determine what, if any, affect the spill will have on the environment.
The La Plata County Sheriff's Office closed the river from Durango south to the New Mexico state line to all watercraft and recreational users. Officials warned agricultural water users to shut off their water intakes.
Tom Cech, the director of One World One Water Center MSU-Denver, told KDVR-TV in Denver the situation is "not good.
"Basically water can dissolve rocks that are in the mountains on the west slope and as those minerals dissolve and release into the stream, the heavy metals can cause lots of issues," he said.
"The long-term effects of this event will depend on the flow of the river in future years," Cech said. "If we have good snowpack and flushing flows where the rivers rise in the springtime and those contaminants are flushed out it could cleanse itself sooner. If we have drought where it doesn't rain or snow very much where the rivers are low those contaminants can hang around for a long time."