Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Contaminated Water from Mine Spill Still Not Detected in Utah

Utah Division of Water Quality
The San Juan River in Utah is already pretty silty, so it's harder to see signs of contamination from the spill upstream. But Utah environmental officials are still monitoring for signs of contamination.

State environmental officials said Tuesday they’re still monitoring water in Utah section of the San Juan River, but so far they haven’t detected contamination from last week’s Gold King Mine waste spill.

The Utah Division of Water Quality has been testing San Juan River water since the weekend, a few days after millions of gallons of mine waste gushed into a tributary.

“We’re getting more information,” says DWQ’s Kim Shelley, “that confirms our initial assumption that, given all of the dilution, we won’t be able to see any of the markers within the state and there isn’t a need for people to necessarily be overly concerned.”

The plume was anticipated in Utah Sunday or Monday. But its telltale yellow-colored water never showed. Water-quality tests haven’t detected acidity that’s usually associated with mine sludge. Results from heavy metals tests don’t come in until Wednesday, but scientists suspect the river chemistry has already made lingering metals settle out. That could mean contamination will stop short of Lake Powell, a water supply for tens of millions of people.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy commented during a speech in Washington Tuesday that she was pained by her agency's role in the accident.

“We are committed,” she said, “to helping the people throughout the Four Corners Region who rely on these rivers for their drinking water, irrigation water and recreation.  We know how important it is to them.”

McCarthy has scheduled a visit Wednesday to the streams below the abandoned Gold King Mine spill site.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.