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3 Million Gallons Of Metal-Laden Water Reaches Animas River, Worried Residents Await Information

LA PLATA COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) - Gov. John Hickenlooper is preparing a State of Emergency for the areas in southwest Colorado along the Animas River. Both the town of Durango and La Plata County have already issued their own emergency orders.

A photo sent to CBS4 on Sunday shows the change in the river's color since Thursday, and piling of sediment on the sides of the river.

Animas River, Aug 9
(credit: Angie Wingerd/Ignited Imagery) The Animas River at Bakers Bridge on Sunday afternoon shows changes in the color of contaminated water from the Gold King Mine blowout near Silverton. The water is cleared up to an extent since Thursday, when it was a deeper orange color from metals. The plume of contaminants has moved into Utah.

As this saga continues, many of the test results still have not been released to the public.

Durango residents are still wandering close to the edge of the river, but we're told it no longer looks rust orange. The river is now closer to a greenish color.

The Environmental Protection Agency said it now knows three million gallons of metal-laden water reached the river last Wednesday. Thousands of gallons per day followed until Sunday when retention ponds were finished.

Without solid answers on whether the water is safe, many residents and top officials are still concerned.

"My water well is 50 feet from the Animas River and we're awaiting the results like many of you," said Sheriff Sean Smith at Sunday night's public meeting.

More than 100 fish were placed in the river by the state to study the plume's impact and are still alive. A group studying insects along the Animas in Durango said they've seen no drastic drop in population. Those are good signs as worried citizens await updated metal counts.

"The EPA is in the business of cleaning up these things, so believe me, we're in a position that we're not used to being in," said Shaun McGrath, an administrator for EPA Region 8.

The agency said the water samples take time because sediment must settle before tests can be performed in order to find out exactly what toxic metals, and how much, are in the mine waste.

Animas River public meeting
(credit: CBS)

But it's the same settling of sediment that causes concern for the long-term impacts of the river, like next spring when runoff will kick up the mine's debris again.

The EPA released this document today that allows businesses and others to file a claim for reimbursement. However, many people, such as raft owners, at Sunday night's public meeting said it and a lack of answers aren't good enough.

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