State has Agreed to Implement New Testing Program with Funding from EPA
Durango, CO - Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet joined Durango Mayor Christina Rinderle, La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt, representatives from the San Juan Basin Health Department Mountain Studies Institute, Fort Lewis College, and other local officials to announce that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) has agreed to develop a new water and sediment quality testing program near a sandbar and swim beach Durango locals know as Paradise Island. Paradise Island is a popular swim and play area for families in the community, and parents have expressed concerns about allowing their children in the river since the Gold King Mine spill without knowing the condition of the sand and water at the site.
Bennet has been working with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the state, and local officials for months to create a water testing plan to help assure families the area is safe for recreation. CDPHE agreed to develop the testing program, and after continued lobbying the EPA agreed to provide the affected states an additional $600,000 for water quality monitoring, which will provide funding for the new testing program.
"In the wake of the Gold King Mine Spill many parents have shared concerns about whether or not it's safe for their kids to play in the waters and sandbar known locally as Paradise Island," Bennet said. "Local families have a right to know that their water is safe, and this new program will provide residents with some additional certainty. We will continue working with the EPA and state and local officials to address community issues like this, and in the meantime we hope this provides Durango parents with much needed peace of mind."
"The Animas River is the heart of Durango and a childhood spent tubing, swimming and playing on the shores of the river is part of what makes Durango so incredible," said Durango Mayor Christina Rinderle. "In the wake of the Gold King spill Durango parents deserve to know exactly what is in the river and the sandbars our children will play in. All the data we have so far tells us the river is safe, but as summer swimming season approaches we need more information to assure our residents that the river is safe to enjoy this summer. I thank Senator Bennet for working on our behalf to establish this new testing program. Our communities partnership with Senator Bennet, and the hard work and dedication of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the San Juan Basin Health Department have made this new program possible."
"We think it is a positive step that EPA is providing funding to test the water and sediment impacted by spring runoff," said Dr. Larry Wolk, Executive Director and Chief Medical Officer of the CDPHE. "This addresses a key concern of the communities that live work and recreate in and around the Animas watershed."
"The Animas River is a vitally important asset for the people of Durango," said Shaun McGrath, Regional Administrator for EPA's Denver office. "It is important that federal, state, and local governments, along with residents and business owners, work together to safeguard its continued recreational use for wading, swimming, boating and fishing. These efforts, including the leadership of Senator Bennet, will shape a bright future for the river."
"Water is a resource that is invaluable to the resilience of our communities, in Colorado and throughout our region," said Heidi Steltzer, Fort Lewis College Biology Professor. "Additional monitoring of river sediments and water quality on the Animas River will increase our understanding of Colorado mountain river systems and inform our choices as water resources change. We live in an area with a unique geologic past, with natural and human impacts on water quality. Increased monitoring will allow us to better understand and respond to events like the Gold King Mine spill, as well as the natural ebbs and flows of our water system."
CDPHE's new testing program will be administered by the San Juan Basin Health Department. Although the water and sediment currently meet all state and federal standards for recreational exposure, there has been speculation about what will occur when high water drops and leaves new sediment from upriver. The new testing program around Paradise Island will be funded through additional money received from the EPA on Tuesday.
On August 5, 2015 the Gold King Mine spill emptied 3 million gallons of contaminated wastewater into the Animas River turning it bright orange and damaging communities downstream. Since the spill, Bennet has worked to ensure that the EPA addresses all of the local communities' concerns and prioritizes funding for cleanup of the spill. He recently joined Senator Cory Gardner, Congressman Scott Tipton, and Governor John Hickenlooper in a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy calling on the EPA to implement the Superfund designation in a way that works for the region and move the claims and reimbursement process forward quickly. In Congress, he has introduced The Gold King Mine Spill Recovery Act to ensure the EPA compensates all communities and tribes affected by the spill and the Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2015 to update our mining laws and provide funding for cleaning up abandoned mine sites. He is also working with Senator Cory Gardner and Representative Scott Tipton on Good Samaritan legislation that would allow local groups to help clean up the hundreds of abandoned mine sites across the state.