Last Wednesday, the Animas river in southern Colorado turned mustard yellow as water breached through a dam that had formed inside a nearby mine and spilled into Cement Creek, one of the tributaries feeding the river. This spill was widely reported on the news and shared on social media, and our guests have all been asking themselves the same question:
"Will this spill have an impact on the Grand Canyon and my rafting trip?"
In short, NO.
Hatch River Expeditions has not canceled any river trips due to concerns about water quality, and we don’t expect to unless the situation changes significantly.
Here’s what we know so far:
- Contaminants must travel down the Animas river, through the San Juan river, and then all the way from the east end of Lake Powell to Glen Canyon dam at the lake’s western end to affect the stretch of Grand Canyon below Lees Ferry (about 15 miles from the dam) where Hatch Expeditions operate. During this journey of hundreds of miles, much of the sediment is expected to filter out of the water.1
- The spill is estimated by the EPA to be a little over 3 million gallons.2 Lake Powell, by comparison contains well over 4.2 trillion gallons3 of water, making the plume of water released from the mine only 0.00000071 percent of the overall contents of Lake Powell and indicating that any harmful mineral content should dilute before reaching the Grand Canyon.
- As of August 9th, the Animas River’s acidity at the plume’s peak was about that of a cup of coffee. It also contained elevated levels of manganese, zinc, and copper that all diluted significantly by the time they reached Durango.4 Though these levels were still elevated well beyond what they should be, the trend of dilution will continue as they make their way through the San Juan and into Lake Powell.
- The Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife is studying fish mortality on the Animas. They placed caged trout directly in the river and in two days noted a single mortality out of 108 fish.5
- The contaminated water is expected to reach the San Juan River arm of Lake Powell this week.6
Although we at Hatch have not been directly affected by this incident, it still hurts our hearts to see such a beautiful river so transformed. We hope to see the Animas looking healthy again soon.