Business owners concerned about mine waste spill impacting San Juan River in Utah

Posted at 9:39 PM, Aug 07, 2015

BLUFF, Utah -- A mine waste spill in a river in Colorado is likely to impact waterways in Utah, and those who work and play on those rivers are worried about the impact to their livelihood and quality of life.

About a million gallons of mine pollutants were spilled into the Animas River after an accident involving an EPA crew investigating a mine near Silverton, Colorado, and experts said the "pulse" of pollution is likely to reach Utah by about Sunday.

Dallin Tait is the general manager of Wild Rivers Expeditions in Bluff, Utah, and he said they take rafters down the San Juan River every day. Unfortunately, that river is likely to be contaminated by the spill.

"If there's any safety issues at all, we're going to have to cancel trips, and trips we had planned for next week--one in particular has been in the planning for eight months," he said.

Taits said since news of the spill broke, he has heard from dozens of worried rafters.

"This is a little bit of a slower time of the year, but we're still getting a lot of calls about boaters that are worried about whether it's even safe to get on the river," he said.

He and others are concerned that the waste will not only impact their way of life, but also their community's quality of life.

"We're very close to the river," he said. "We love the river: That's why we do what we do. We take thousands of people down each summer. We don't want that to change."

The spill is travelling along the Animas River, which connects to the San Juan River--which ultimately flows into Lake Powell. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area has warned people to avoid swimming in or drinking the water in the San Juan River arm of Lake Powell.

Walt Baker, Director of the Utah Division of Water Quality, said people need to be careful.

"I think we need to be concerned about this," he said. "The takeaway message right now is that if you're recreating in that water, exercise caution."

Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, said the spill is cause for concern regarding water supplies.

"People don't realize this is the water supply for Las Vegas and Los Angeles and San Diego as well as irrigation water for much of the southwest," he said.

Tait said they can only hope things improve.

"Of course, we're worried about what it could do to the community, but most of all we just love the river and want it to stay pristine," he said.