Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado declared a state of emergency on Monday, five days after a spill that sent toxic water seeping from an abandoned gold mine and turned a river orange.
The Environmental Protection Agency said Sunday that 3 million gallons of wastewater had spilled, three times as much as earlier estimates, and that health risks to humans and aquatic life were not yet clear.
Hickenlooper said the disaster declaration would allow him to use $500,000 from the state’s disaster fund to pay for the response. Some of the money will go toward towns and businesses hurt by the spill.
“We will work closely with the EPA to continue to measure water quality as it returns to normal, but also to work together to assess other mines throughout the state to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” the governor said in a statement.
On Wednesday, an EPA-supervised cleanup crew accidentally breached a debris dam that had formed inside the Gold King Mine, shuttered since 1923, sending a yellow-orange sludge leaking into the Animas River.
Water collected downstream showed higher than normal levels of arsenic, lead and other metals. In Durango, Colorado, the mayor assured people the water was safe to drink because the city shut off its intake valve from the Animas.
Still, "the river for us is an integral part of our community," state Sen. Ellen Roberts, who represents Durango, told MSNBC on Monday. "It's where people get married. People do their own private ceremonies along there. It's our daily life."
The discolored water reached New Mexico and was headed for Utah. Authorities there were planning to shut two wells that serve the town of Montezuma Creek. A tank of residential water in Halchita, Utah, was filled with water shipped from Arizona.