Local officials travel to D.C. to lobby for Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site funding

On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
Eric Baker

From The Durango Herald editorial board:

Good representatives, at every level of government, are willing to go the extra mile.

In mid-June, Durango City Councilor Dean Brookie, La Plata County Commissioner Brad Blake and San Juan County Commissioner Scott Fetchenhier did just that, both literally and figuratively, by traveling to Washington, D.C. with Ty Churchwell of the Durango office of Trout Unlimited.

Armed with letters and messages from counties and town councils, chambers of commerce and other Animas River stakeholders, their aim was to meet with Environment Protection Agency director Scott Pruitt. Their goal: to lobby for priority status and adequate funding for the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund project, now in its investigative stages.

Heading east, the four were worried. While Pruitt had announced that Superfund projects – there are 1,300 across the country – would be a top priority of the agency under the Trump administration, the preliminary 2018 federal budget released in March showed a 25 percent cut in funding for the program.

To their chagrin, the first part of the mission failed. Pruitt was out of the country and could not keep his appointment.

But good representatives are by nature persistent. And optimistic. Instead of a meeting with Pruitt, the four met with eight high-ranking EPA officials and were joined via phone by more staff members in Denver intimately familiar with the Bonita Peak listing.

Churchwell came away convinced that the cleanup and mitigation of acid mine drainage contaminating the headwaters of the Animas River is at the top of the agency’s list.

“The response was that Bonita Peak is a stated priority of the EPA,” he said. “We feel confident that the agency is deeply committed.” More proof of that statement is evident in the work now being done. While many Superfund sites sit idle, Churchwell said, the Bonita Peak project is underway.

That Brookie, Blake and Fetchenhier came away convinced as well is due in no small part to the negative publicity generated by the Gold King Mine spill in August, 2015. The EPA’s role in causing the disaster is well known, and the visitors to Washington were not about to let the agency off the hook. As Brookie reminded EPA staff, “You had your hands on the shovel.”

That played into the other message the group wanted to convey, Churchwell added, that this project can be the agency’s “opportunity to shine, and demonstrate how a federal agency can respond and do it right.”

All indications are that the agency agrees.

Before leaving Washington, the four also met with Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton to ask the trio for a coordinated and united show of support for the project.

We are both fortunate and thankful for the efforts made by our local elected officials to ensure the EPA makes good on the promise the Superfund program holds for a restored Animas River watershed.

Thanks also go to Churchwell for organizing and finding the means to fund the journey; no taxpayer money was used for the trip. In return, he would like to see sustained local interest and community oversight of the project. More opportunities to participate arrive next month with a series of informative meetings followed by a tour of the mining district in September.

We should all capitalize on the momentum generated by the visit; find details at http://wearetheanimas.com.

Hermosa Trail to be Impacted by Construction of Fish Barrier

Proposed Hermosa Creek watershed protection area via The Durango Herald

Here’s the release from the San Juan National Forest:

Construction activities will begin in the Hermosa Creek Special Management Area on Monday, July 10, 2017 to erect a fish-migration barrier on Hermosa Creek as part of the ongoing Colorado River Cutthroat Trout Reintroduction Project. Trail users and visitors to the area should expect to encounter delays and closures until October 1, 2017. The barrier is being installed on the main stem of Hermosa Creek downstream of its confluence with the East Fork of Hermosa Creek. About one-half mile of the Hermosa Creek Trail from its northern trailhead must be widened to allow heavy equipment to access the construction site. The trail widening is temporary and will be rehabilitated to the extent possible. Tree removal is expected to be minimal.

Throughout the construction project, trail users traveling in both directions may encounter temporary delays of up to one hour. Short-term closures lasting up to a full day are also possible, especially when heavy equipment is being moved in and out of the area. No more than four days of closures are expected during the three-month project, but construction schedules are subject to changing conditions. Public notices will be posted when trail closures are expected. The project is not expected to affect fishing, because flows will be bypassed above the construction site; however, some sedimentation is expected downstream. The barrier represents the final and most important phase of the Hermosa Creek Colorado River Cutthroat Trout Reintroduction Project, which began almost 30 years ago. The goal is to protect native cutthroat trout above the barrier from non-native fish located downstream.

For more information, please contact the Columbine Ranger District at 970 884-2512 or Clay Kampf at 970-884-1403.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

US Supreme Court declines to hear #GoldKingMine lawsuit, #NM v. #Colorado

This image was taken during the peak outflow from the Gold King Mine spill at 10:57 a.m. Aug. 5. The waste-rock dump can be seen eroding on the right. Federal investigators placed blame for the blowout squarely on engineering errors made by the Environmental Protection Agency’s-contracted company in a 132-page report released Thursday [October 22, 2015]

From The Naitional Law Review:

On June 26, the US Supreme Court denied New Mexico’s petition seeking to institute an original action against Colorado for the 2015 Gold King Mine spill. An original action in the US Supreme Court is a lawsuit between states. Invoking that rarely used procedure, New Mexico sought to hold Colorado liable for the Gold King Mine spill. New Mexico asserted claims under the intricate provisions of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA). New Mexico also sought analogous relief against Colorado under federal interstate common law.

Attorneys assisting the State of Colorado, successfully argued that the US Supreme Court should not entertain New Mexico’s novel lawsuit. As explained in Colorado’s briefing, New Mexico’s RCRA claim failed because a CERCLA response action had been initiated to address the relevant hazardous substance release. New Mexico’s CERCLA claim failed, Colorado argued, for a number of reasons, including that once a site is under investigation under CERCLA authority, several of New Mexico’s claims are barred because they would interfere with the CERCLA investigation and remedy decision making. Colorado additionally argued that Congress displaced New Mexico’s putative federal common law claims through its enactment of comprehensive environmental statutes, most importantly the Clean Water Act, but also CERCLA and RCRA. Finally, Colorado’s briefing also explained that Colorado should not be held liable for its regulatory activities in remediating and managing abandoned mines…

Colorado’s victory at the US Supreme Court protects Congress’s carefully constructed statutory scheme for the effective management and remediation of water pollution across the country. It also protects Colorado’s sovereign ability to remediate abandoned mines.

On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
Eric Baker

Southwestern Water Conservation District annual Water Seminar presentations are now online

Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

Click here to view the presentations. Click here to go to the website:

Thanks for talking water with us!
It’s never too late to say thank you for attending the Southwestern Water Conservation District’s 2017 Annual Water Seminar! Just under 200 people gathered in early April to discuss the current funding needs for water-related projects in the state.

Missed the seminar this year? Fortunately, many of the speakers have generously shared their presentations; click on the button below to view them online. You can also read a short summary of the event in the Durango Herald, “Water conference explores financial solutions.”

Mark your calendars for the 2018 Annual Water Seminar on Friday, April 6, again at the DoubleTree Hotel in Durango.

U.S. Supremes pass on #NM #GoldKingMine lawsuit against #Colorado #AnimasRiver

The orange plume flows through the Animas across the Colorado/New Mexico state line the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2015. (Photo by Melissa May, San Juan Soil and Conservation District)

From The Albuquerque Journal (Dan Boyd):

While Colorado’s attorney general cited the ruling as proof the lawsuit should not have been filed, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas indicated the legal fight may not be over yet.

“The Supreme Court’s ruling only limited the venue in which the state of Colorado can be sued for the harm done to New Mexico children, families and businesses,” AG’s office spokesman James Hallinan said.

The lawsuit, filed roughly a year ago, alleged Colorado was too lax in its oversight of groundwater contaminated by decades of mining and should be held responsible for the fallout of the Gold King Mine spill.

The U.S. Supreme Court, on an 8-1 vote, denied a motion to hear the case. The nation’s highest court did not provide a reason for its decision, but has also opted not to intervene in other recent interstate disputes, including a 2016 lawsuit filed by Nebraska and Oklahoma against Colorado’s legal marijuana laws…

In addition to the lawsuit against Colorado, New Mexico has also filed a lawsuit in federal court against the EPA and the owners of the Gold King Mine that seeks more than $136 million in damages. That amount would include money to pay for economic losses the state attributes to the mine spill, specifically in the tourism, recreation and agriculture sectors.

From ColoradoPolitics.com (Peter Marcus):

The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office and the state Environment Department announced last year that it filed a complaint against Colorado with the U.S. Supreme Court. It sought damages and demands that Colorado address problems at draining mines in southwest Colorado.

Former New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ryan Flynn alleged that his water quality researchers rejected assertions from Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Colorado environment officials that the Animas River quickly returned to safe pre-event conditions after the August 2015 spill of toxic heavy metals.

Flynn and attorneys for his department at the time suggested that Colorado is liable for the incident, which spilled 3 million gallons of sludge into the Animas in Durango, turning it a mustard yellow color. The spill fouled rivers in three Western states with arsenic, lead and other heavy metals.

The EPA acknowledged fault in the spill, in which sludge flowed into creeks and rivers during restoration work at Gold King. The flow headed into the San Juan River in New Mexico and Utah…

The Supreme Court was an appropriate venue for the case against Colorado, as it involved two states suing each other. But the high court declined to hear arguments in the case, though it did not issue an opinion explaining the decision. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito said they would let the lawsuit move forward.

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

New Mexico’s petition to hold Colorado responsible for the Gold King Mine spill nearly two years ago was denied Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Because it was the EPA and not Colorado that caused the Gold King Mine disaster, I have said from the beginning that New Mexico should not have sued Colorado in the Supreme Court,” Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said in a prepared statement.

“Now that my office has won the Supreme Court case, I hope the conversation can focus on the EPA and its promise to take full responsibility for its actions.”

[…]

In its lawsuit, New Mexico claimed the Gold King spill was the “coup de grâce of two decades of disastrous environmental decision-making by Colorado, for which New Mexico and its citizens are now paying the price.”

The complaint specifically called out a decision reached by the state of Colorado and Sunnyside Gold Corp. to shut down a water treatment plant in favor of placing bulkheads at the entrance of the American Tunnel, Sunnyside’s drainage point.

It’s believed among most researchers familiar with the Animas watershed that the bulkheads caused the mine pool of the Sunnyside Mine to back up and cause other mines to discharge acidic water, namely the Gold King.

Regardless, Coffman, in response to the filed complaint, said she tried to resolve the matter without litigation, calling New Mexico’s lawsuit against the state “unfortunate.”

“It’s unclear to me how suing Colorado furthers the states’ mutual goal of holding the EPA to its promise to ‘take full responsibility’ for turning our rivers yellow,” she said…

“The Supreme Court’s ruling only limited the venue in which the State of Colorado can be sued for the harm done to New Mexico children, families and businesses,” James Hallinan, spokesman for New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, said in an emailed statement.

“Attorney General Balderas will continue to fight for economic, social and environmental justice until New Mexico is compensated appropriately by all parties responsible for the horrific impacts of the Gold King Mine Spill.”

The Supreme Court’s decision to dismiss New Mexico’s petition is the latest lawsuit to fail in the long line of litigation in the wake of the spill.

On Jan. 13, the EPA rejected $1.2 billion in claims of damages from private businesses and individuals, citing federal law that encourages “government agencies to take action without the fear of paying damages in the event something went wrong while taking the action.”

To date, the EPA has spent more than $29 million in response to the Gold King Mine spill, with most of those funds used to stabilize the mine adit and mitigate ongoing acid mine drainage through a temporary water treatment plant, Amy Graham, an agency spokeswoman said Monday.

A total of $3.7 million has been awarded to state, tribal and local governments for emergency response costs, and another $2 million was provided to states and tribes for water quality monitoring, Graham said.

From the New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):

The problem of toxic waste from abandoned mines flowing into rivers isn’t limited to just the Gold King Mine.

In Colorado alone, more than 200 abandoned mines collectively leak over a million gallons of wastewater every day. The pollution includes things like heavy metals, arsenic and sulfuric acid.

Last week, the Denver Post reported that EPA officials are trying to stop contamination of the Animas River from the abandoned Red and Bonita Mine, which currently discharges 300-gallons per minute of wastewater into the Animas River…

There are more than 15,000 abandoned mines across New Mexico, according to the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.

According to that agency’s website, “The numbers of abandoned mines in the state are so numerous that one can only guess at the quantity. Some of them are small and not considered dangerous. Others are extremely dangerous.”

James Hallinan, spokesman for New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, emailed a statement:

“The Supreme Court’s ruling only limited the venue in which the State of Colorado can be sued for the harm done to New Mexico children, families and businesses. Attorney General Balderas will continue to fight for economic, social and environmental justice until New Mexico is compensated appropriately by all parties responsible for the horrific impacts of the Gold King Mine Spill.”

#AnimasRiver: Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site update

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

This summer will be the first full work season since the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site was declared last September, and the Environmental Protection Agency is wasting no time trying to figure out one of the biggest mysteries in the watershed: The American Tunnel.

EPA hydrologist Ian Bowen said this week the agency plans to drill 500 feet into the San Juan Mountains to install a monitoring well between the second and third bulkheads on the tunnel…

The American Tunnel, which travels about 11,000 feet, served as a transportation route for ore, as well as a deep drainage, from the vast Sunnyside Mine workings to facilities at Gladstone, north of Silverton.

When Sunnyside Mine closed for good in 1991, attention turned to what to do with acidic discharges out of the American Tunnel. Sunnyside initially pulled the water into a treatment plant, but ultimately decided with the state of Colorado to install three bulkheads to stem the flow of acid drainage.

But in recent years, researchers believe the Sunnyside mine pool behind the American Tunnel reached capacity and the water is spilling into other mine networks, such as the Gold King and Red & Bonita…

The Animas River headwaters are broken into three drainages: Mineral Creek, Cement Creek and the Upper Animas.

Rebecca Thomas, project manager for the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site, has previously said each drainage accounts for about a third of heavy metal loading in the Animas, causing a dead zone of aquatic life on the river from just below Silverton to the Bakers Bridge.

But many people familiar with the basin say the EPA, which could see massive budget cuts under the Trump administration, should focus on the high-metal content waters of Cement Creek, where 13 of the 48 sites are located…

Treatment options for the American Tunnel are a great unknown, Bowen said.

Some have called for a complete draining of the tunnel, which could take decades and cost a lot of money to treat discharges. Others have suggested placing bulkheads on all the mines in the area.

Bowen said the EPA first needs to understand the hydrology of the area. The new monitoring well that is expected to be installed by August will be a key tool in that effort because it will provide insight on how much water is behind the bulkheads, he said.

“There’s strong indications that these systems are related, but there’s not enough evidence to say it’s immediately connected,” Bowen said.

Sunnyside Gold Corp. has long contended there is no connection between the American Tunnel and any other mine networks in the area.

The American Tunnel drains about 100 gallons of acid mine waste water a minute, which flows right by the EPA’s temporary treatment plant into Cement Creek.

The temporary treatment plant only takes discharges from the Gold King Mine, which is now at about 620 gallons a minute. The EPA said it may consider treating other mine discharges upon further evaluation.

From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

The second annual Conference on Environmental Conditions of the Animas and San Juan Watersheds with Emphasis on the Gold King Mine and Other Mine Waste Issues today at San Juan College also featured other people who have been monitoring conditions in the rivers.

One challenge for scientists is identifying to what degree metals are naturally occurring in the river and which metals are coming from mines in Colorado.

Kathleen Sullivan, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientist, said heavy metals released into the river during the Gold King Mine spill likely are no longer in the sediments in the rivers.

Sullivan said there are naturally high levels of aluminum and iron in the river because of the composition of the bedrock. She said the EPA looked at the ratio of arsenic and lead to aluminum or iron in the river to identify the plume released by the Gold King Mine spill.

The ratio peaked while the plume was passing through the area…

She said only a small fraction of the heavy metals released into the river during the spill reached Lake Powell in Utah and Arizona during the immediate aftermath of the spill in August 2015. The rest of the metal was deposited as sediment, but Sullivan said the EPA believes the metals from the Gold King Mine spill are no longer present in the sediment and now have been deposited in Lake Powell.

Sullivan said the EPA believes the Gold King Mine metals deposited in sediments passed through New Mexico in low levels over three to four weeks during the spring runoff in 2016.

To test that hypothesis, Sullivan said the EPA took samples during the spring runoff this year. She said the EPA expects to see lower ratios of lead to aluminum in this year’s samples.

Sullivan said the metals in the plume of acid mine drainage were mainly picked up after the water left the Gold King Mine. She said the water exiting the mine picked up a large amount of metal from a waste pile outside the mine. Sullivan said the EPA is currently in the process of testing that pile.

During a panel presentation, Bonnie Hopkins, an extension agent for New Mexico State University, said one of the biggest issues still facing the area is the public stigma associated with the spill.

When Farmington’s Growers Market opened for the 2016 season following the Gold King Mine spill, only three vendors showed up to sell their products. She attributed the small number of farmers selling their products to the stigma surrounding crops grown using water from the Animas River.

This year, the Growers Market saw improvement. Hopkins said 11 vendors brought crops to the first market of the season earlier this month.

During a panel discussion, Sullivan said the acid mine drainage from the Gold King Mine is effectively being treated, although drainage from other mines needs to be addressed. She said samples from Cement Creek — which feeds the Animas River — show the water quality is improving.

Steve Austin, a hydrologist with the Navajo Nation EPA, said community outreach is still needed to communicate that the river water is safe.

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

EPA Superfund officials trying to stop toxic mine contamination of the Animas River headwaters are preparing to close an underground dam, aiming to block a 300 gallon-per-minute discharge equal to a Gold King Mine disaster every week.

Shutting this Red and Bonita Mine bulkhead has emerged as a huge test on mountains here, where miners who penetrated fissures and groundwater pathways left behind the geologic equivalent of Swiss cheese…

But turning a valve and closing that bulkhead could trigger toxic leaks elsewhere, potentially spreading harm along already-contaminated headwaters. The EPA’s latest water data show widespread aluminum, cadmium, copper, iron and zinc contamination from mining and natural sources at levels too high for fish to survive.

EPA officials this week told The Denver Post — and assured local leaders — that the agency will use caution at the bulkhead, installed in 2004, and close it gradually next year while monitoring mountainsides for any new leaks. They’ve launched a data-gathering blitz, harnessing the local Mountain Studies Institute, to measure flows from dozens of mine tunnels and more than 97 mountainside seeps and springs.

“As soon as we feel we have a good handle on what the baseline is, then we’ll close the Red and Bonita bulkhead,” EPA project chief Rebecca Thomas said. “We would do it as a test initially and build up water behind the bulkhead.

“If we see a change we’re not comfortable with, if it is going to cause any further degradation of water quality, we’ll open up the bulkhead and drain it and treat it,” Thomas said in an interview.

“We need to understand how water flows before we close it. There are a lot of underground connections. Some are man-made. Some are natural,” she said. “We want to test whether or not closure of the bulkhead would help us improve water quality by stopping continued flow from the Red and Bonita.”

EPA hydrologist Ian Bowen said environmental gains could be big but emphasized unknowns. For example, the acid-metals muck draining from the Gold King, which is filtered before it mixes into the Animas, increased last year, reaching to 710 gallons per minute. The EPA can treat 1,200 gallons per minute at a plant below that mine.

Bulkheads also were installed inside Kinross Corp.’s Sunnyside Mine and American Tunnel. EPA crews plan to drill behind those bulkheads to test the pressure of pent-up mine wastewater — to make sure they will hold. American Tunnel bulkheads still leak 100 gallons a minute, and the Mogul Mine, where a bulkhead was installed in 2003, leaks 150 gallons a minute more unfiltered muck into headwaters.

Stopping the untreated Red and Bonita discharge would mark a first big fix in a Superfund cleanup following the Aug. 5, 2015, Gold King disaster, where an EPA crew accidentally triggered a 3 million gallon spill that turned the Animas mustard-yellow as it moved down the river and eventually reached the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River.

Installing more bulkheads to trap toxic mine muck inside mountains could mean taxpayers pay less for water cleaning at treatment plants built along headwaters.

Colorado “agrees with EPA’s plan,” state health department spokesman Warren Smith said.

Yet challenges loom. Mapping tunnels, fissures, seeps and springs increasingly occupies a legion of researchers and Deere & Ault engineering consultants tapped by the EPA. They anticipated in an April report that closing the Red and Bonita bulkhead would cause toxic overflows elsewhere. And EPA bureaucracy combined with uncertain funding from Congress has delayed a dozen or so other toxic mine Superfund cleanups around Colorado — let alone the tens of thousands of inactive mines contaminating water around the West.

East of Silverton, above Creede, the EPA’s Superfund cleanup of the Nelson Tunnel and various old mines — declared a national-priority disaster in 2008 — has yet to move beyond studies of tunnels and groundwater.

EPA officials on Wednesday said the agency “is evaluating the focused feasibility study for the (Creede) site and considering a range of alternatives for the proposed remedy” but that, because the EPA has not picked “a preferred alternative,” funds for cleanup aren’t available…

EPA crews seem to be working at sampling water and investigating hydrology before closure of the Red and Bonita bulkhead, said Fetchenhier, who is a geologist. “We said: ‘Before you close it, we want the data gathered on every spring, every seep, every tunnel so that you have a baseline. Anytime you put in a bulkhead, there is a chance something could come out someplace else.’ ”

EPA officials this week convened a forum in Silverton, an in-depth hydrology session with a brain trust of local scientists, mining engineers and others whose collective knowhow, federal officials said, exceeds the agency’s expertise.

Downriver in Durango, La Plata County leaders acknowledged a strong interest in stopping contamination after decades of enduring the toxic legacy of mining — because clean water is crucial for residents of Colorado and other western states.

#Utah continues monitoring of the San Juan River #GoldKingMine #AnimasRiver

On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
Eric Baker

From KSL.com (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

Erica Gaddis, the newly appointed director of the Utah Division of Water Quality, briefed a committee of lawmakers on the situation during a Tuesday hearing, detailing that 540 tons of heavy metals now rest at the bottom of Lake Powell.

Testing by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency revealed that the heavy metal concentrations had all been flushed to Lake Powell by last July, carried along by the currents in the San Juan River.

Gaddis, who assumes her new role next Monday, said metals such as copper, zinc and aluminum tested above federal standards in 2015 in aquatic life in more than 150 samples. By 2016, only aluminum remained — with counts that exceeded the standard in 126 samples…

Gaddis told members of the Legislature’s Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee that Utah, the three other states impacted and Native American tribes are working together to monitor long-term impacts.

That task is complicated given the extent of legacy mining operations in the Bonita Peak Mining District in Colorado, where there are 48 historic mines near Silverton.

Gaddis pointed out that over the last decade, it’s estimated there have been 877 million gallons of water released, with 8.6 million tons of tailings generated from the life of those mines.

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality has been reimbursed by the EPA for nearly $464,000 in costs in the initial response and another $212,000 in costs have received preliminary approval by the federal government.

Gaddis said about $20 million has been appropriated by a congressional act to help Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Native American tribes with long-term monitoring.

Utah is also keeping its options open for any potential litigation against the EPA regarding the spill, she added.

Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter