Restrictions on river water lifted - Albuquerque Journal

Restrictions on river water lifted

State environment and health officials on Saturday lifted the last of the restrictions they imposed on water from the Animas and San Juan rivers after 3 million gallons of contaminated water from a Colorado mine spilled into the rivers earlier this month.

The lifting of restrictions reconnects San Juan County’s water systems to the rivers and reopens them to recreation.

The only remaining prohibition is on the consumption of fish caught in the rivers, as State Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn said a study is pending that will determine whether the fish are safe to eat.

That study might not be completed for “a longer period of time,” he said Saturday.

“Based on all the available testing that we’ve performed … we are ready to reopen the river and hopefully return to some degree of normal back in Farmington,” Flynn said. “We’ve really weathered the storm and got the situation under control.”

River recreation enthusiasts may still notice some discoloration in the sediment along the river banks, the environment department said in a news release. Officials said they “do not anticipate adverse human health effects due to exposure.”

They did provide recommendations for members of the public who come into contact with the rivers:

  • Don’t drink untreated water from the river;
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap after contact with sediment and river water;
  • Avoid contact with areas with visible sediment discoloration; and
  • Wash clothes after contact with sediment and river water.

The lifting of the restrictions came after more than a week of testing and intervention from the Environmental Protection Agency. EPA employees caused the spill Aug. 5 as they were trying to figure out a plan to deal with reservoirs of contaminated water left behind by mining companies.

Environment officials also flooded the irrigation ditches to try to flush out contaminants in areas of the river and its tributaries used by farmers, Flynn said Saturday.

Though Flynn said river water quality has returned to the level it was at before the spill, he stressed the importance of long-term impact studies to determine the full effects of the spill on the environment and wildlife.

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