EPA: #AnimasRiver surface water returning to pre-spill conditions — The Denver Post

Animas River at Durango photo -- Steve Lewis via Twitter
Animas River at Durango photo — Steve Lewis via Twitter

From The Denver Post (Elizabeth Hernandez):

Environmental Protection Agency officials released new data Sunday that they said indicates surface water concentrations from the Animas River are returning to their normal conditions.

Water samples collected by the EPA on Aug. 16 and 17 have been validated, the agency said. An agency review of the data included a comparison to screening levels for exposure during recreational river use to see if the metal concentrations in the water are consistent with levels prior to the disastrous 3 million-gallon spill that inundated the river in early August.

“Based on the results of the surface water samples in the Animas River, surface water concentrations are trending toward pre-event conditions,” the EPA said Sunday.

From The Denver Post (Jesse Paul):

The Environmental Protection Agency says there may still be blockages in the Gold King Mine that could lead to future wastewater surges more than two weeks after 3 million gallons of contaminants were released at the site.

Officials say while the EPA and state responders have “begun efforts” to ensure such plugs do not exist, the work has not been completed.

The news came as 92 pages of internal documents were released by the EPA late Friday showing the agency knew the Gold King was at risk for blowout more than a year before wastewater spilled from the mine above Silverton on Aug. 5.

The papers say workers at the site had a list of precautions they were supposed to take to prevent such a disaster. It was unclear Saturday from the documents whether those steps were taken.

“Conditions may exist that could result in a blow-out of the blockages and cause a release of large volumes of contaminated mine waters and sediment from inside the mine, which contain concentrated heavy metals,” an EPA task order from June 2014 said.

Media outlets and political figures alike have been pushing for weeks to see the documents released on Friday. The agency has come under intense criticism, much of it from politicians throughout the Southwest, for a lack of transparency in the Gold King disaster’s wake…

The task order, sent to contractor Environmental Restoration LLC, called the mine a “time critical” site and said water could be backed up in the Gold King because of the partial collapse of its portal and blockages within its workings.

The documents show the Gold King’s workings had no maintenance since 1991 and that its tunnels had been inaccessible since 1995, when its portal collapsed.

In an action plan dated in May, the EPA contractor slated to work on the mine — Environmental Restoration — said it planned to “de-water” the mine and remove blockages to prevent any blowout danger.

According to the plan, work was to be completed in the summer and fall of 2015, with an official start date of Aug. 17. The EPA said Saturday “work began at the site based on the availability of personnel and equipment, and appropriate weather conditions.”

“Collapse blockage material removal will be performed in a controlled manner in (order) to control the rate of release of water and allow for appropriate treatment and sludge management,” the EPA work order said.

The documents show the work crew was supposed to remove loose rock from the Gold King’s portal bit-by-bit while simultaneously pumping out backed-up wastewater inside the mine. The waste was then to be directed to the adjacent Red and Bonita Mine, lower in elevation, where the EPA and contractors already had set up treatment areas to prevent contaminants from entering the watershed.

The work plan also indicates the crew was to set up structures at the Gold King portal to prevent a blowout, including bedding material and a culvert section. Also as a precaution, the task order instructed the crew to install a gate at the portal that could be locked as part of blowout prevention.

However, EPA supervisor Hays Griswold, who was at the scene of the blowout Aug. 5, told The Denver Post in an interview this month the plan in place “couldn’t have worked.” He said conditions in the mine were worse than anticipated.

“Nobody expected (the acid water backed up in the mine) to be that high,” he said.

Griswold and his crew were using a backhoe to investigate the area near the Gold King’s portal when the blowout happened.

“All that was holding it back was the dirt. The dirt just wasn’t going to hold,” Griswold said…

The Post visited the Gold King Mine on Wednesday, when wastewater was still flowing from its portal at about 600 gallons per minute. The EPA is treating the sludge below the mine through a series of sediment ponds and says it plans to construct a commercial water treatment apparatus before winter.

The Associated Press reported the agency had spent $3.7 million through Thursday on response efforts in the spill’s aftermath.

The EPA’s inspector general, the agency’s internal watchdog, is investigating the disaster, and the Department of the Interior is conducting an independent review expected to be completed in October.

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