National Ground Water Association (NGWA)

Early signs indicate New Mexico water wells unharmed by gold mine toxic release

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WESTERVILLE, OH -- While the August 5 toxic waste release from Colorado’s Gold King Mine into Colorado’s Animas River presents the potential for contamination of groundwater used by drinking water wells, early indications are that New Mexico wells may not be affected, the National Ground Water Association said today.

“Continued vigilance in monitoring groundwater supplies along the river remain important, but it is good to hear that water samples provide reason for some encouragement,” said William Alley, Ph.D., NGWA director of science and technology.

The New Mexico Environment Department reports that “general river hydrology and additional NMED groundwater and surface water samples indicated that it is highly likely that wells have not been affected by this event.”

Groundwater provides much of the flow of many streams; often lakes and streams are “windows” to the water table. Because of the connection of groundwater and surface water, there is the potential under certain conditions for surface water contamination to migrate into aquifers.

The toxic release occurred when U.S. Environmental Protection Agency personnel were using heavy machinery to enter the mine to investigate the waste in order to treat it. An estimated three million gallons of waste spilled into the river, and it still is leaking at a rate of more than 500 gallons a minute.

High levels of arsenic, lead, copper, cadmium, and other heavy metals have been found in the river since the spill. Mine drainage issues have long presented problems in the United States, and NGWA has 620 citations on “mine drainage” on its website.

The U.S. EPA has a large contingent of responders on the scene. The contamination has affected more than 100 miles of the river, which flows into the San Juan River and could ultimately reach the Colorado River.

NGWA, a nonprofit organization composed of U.S. and international groundwater professionals — contractors, equipment manufacturers, suppliers, scientists, and engineers — is dedicated to advancing groundwater knowledge. NGWA’s vision is to be the leading groundwater association that advocates the responsible development, management, and use of water.

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