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Storm knocks out Gold King Mine’s treatment plant

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Wintry weather has knocked out a plant that treats wastewater draining from the Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says fluctuating electricity stopped the plant Thursday night.

The agency says it doesn’t believe downstream drinking water will be affected, although a long-term shutdown could affect fish.

Wastewater from the mine is bypassing the plant at a rate of 250 to 300 gallons per minute, according to estimates from the state of Utah and the EPA.

EPA spokeswoman Cynthia Peterson said Friday that operators haven’t been able to reach the plant because the access road is blocked by at least one avalanche. She says it could take several days to clear the road.

The U.S. Geological Survey is sending a team that will collect water and sediment samples at multiple points in New Mexico along the Animas and San Juan rivers, according to a Friday news release from the New Mexico Environment Department.

“Affected communities have been notified of the failure of the treatment facility and have been advised to take protective measures, such as shutting off intake points for drinking water systems,” the department said. “Residents relying on the San Juan and Animas rivers for potable or agricultural purposes should take appropriate precautions.”

The plant can be operated remotely, and no one was at the site when the avalanche occurred.

The plant was installed after the EPA inadvertently triggered a wastewater spill from the Gold King in 2015, contaminating rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.