UPDATE 8/18: Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) officials announced today it has examined data provided by states upstream of Lake Powell and closer to the Gold King Mine spill. ADEQ’s analysis of data released by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality of samples collected about 100 miles from Lake Powell (closest Utah sample) shows that water quality conditions in the San Juan River upstream of Lake Powell are generally consistent with pre-spill conditions. “Based on what we’re seeing with the water flowing into Lake Powell, we don’t expect there to be noticeable change in water quality in Arizona,” ADEQ Director Misael Cabrera said.
“To put this spill into perspective, the three million gallon estimated volume of the spill represents a miniscule fraction of a percent (0.000071 percent) of the total volume of water in Lake Powell (more than four trillion gallons as of July 29, 2015) Cabrera said, adding that ADEQ does not expect this spill to have short- or long-term negative impacts to Lake Powell and the downstream Colorado River.”
ORIGINAL ARTICLE: A toxic plume of heavy metals released last week into the Animas River from the Gold King Mine in Silverton, Colorado reached Utah on Monday. Many questions have yet to be answered, including the extent of the damage to the area’s ecosystem, and for how long. Over 3 million gallons of the contaminated water was released, and that’s a tragedy for the whole region up there.
But the question Parker Live readers have been asking us relates to how the spill may potentially affect our own stretch of the Colorado River on the Parker Strip and Lake Havasu. Is there any threat? The images of the toxic yellow plume don’t look good, and any threat posed by such water contamination on the Colorado River wouldn’t just be bad for recreation and good times, but – even more importantly – would affect the water supply for the millions of people served by it here.
The Animas River dumps into the Colorado River at Lake Powell, which leads to Lake Mead and then, eventually, to Lake Havasu and Lake Moovalya.
But that’s a long way to come, and that’s a lot of ordinary water for dissipation and dilution. According to the preliminary data collected within 24 hours of the spill, the contaminant levels were 50 percent lower after moving about 10 miles downstream of the release site. Lake Powell is located another 250 miles further downstream, and it’s maybe another 250 miles or more to Lake Mead and another 150 or so to Lake Havasu.
All bodies of water have trace amounts of all these metals, so the question is not whether the Colorado River contains lead, for example, or arsenic. The question is whether the quantities of those toxins are within acceptable levels with regard to human safety. And – given the information above – it seems unlikely that they would be elevated above safe levels so far away from the release site.
The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) and the California Environmental Protection Agency are responsible for water supply quality in the states of Arizona and California. Both agencies will be monitoring water quality; for example ADEQ says it is sending a team to Lake Powell to conduct tests:
“We are sending a team of water quality monitoring professionals to conduct baseline sampling upstream and downstream of the Glenn Canyon Dam, which creates Lake Powell. We will collect additional samples, as appropriate. […] We are participating on daily calls to coordinate and stay informed […] Based on our continuing monitoring and analysis of the situation, we will be in a position to further advise Arizonans and water systems.”
If there are any additional updates to this story, Parker Live will report it, but it seems unlikely that we’ll be dealing with a toxic yellow plume in Parker anytime soon.