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Gold King Mine Waste Spill and Animas River

This page provides health information related to topics such as drinking water and recreational water safety.

Health concerns about drinking water quality and exposure to metals occurred when waste from the Gold King mine spilled into Cement Creek in Colorado on August 5, 2015. Cement Creek is a tributary of the Animas River which runs through northwest New Mexico and flows into the San Juan River. The following provides general health information about drinking water and surface water.

Latest News:

New Mexico Department's of Environment, Health, and Game and Fish in concurrence with local officials and the US Environmental Protection Agency, lifted the ban on San Juan County's drinking water systems' supply connection to the Animas and San Juan Rivers and on the public's recreational use of the rivers with certain prudent health practices, following the August 5th Gold King Mine Spill.

Waters of the Animas and San Juan Rivers are now meeting all applicable water quality standards.

For the most up to date information regarding the situation visit:

Drinking Water Sources Health Recommendations

In this area of the state there are primarily two ways people get drinking water for their homes: community water systems or through domestic wells, also called private wells.

Private Wells . As a routine health practice, private well owners should test their wells regularly. The recommended testing schedule is:

o Test yearly for nitrates and bacteria;

o Test occasionally for metals commonly found in the water or soil in the area (naturally-occurring or human-caused) and other chemicals,

o Test periodically when there are changes in the environment (such as those resulting from wildfires, droughts, floods, and other pollution sources).

There are no monitoring requirements for drinking water quality in private wells but households with private wells should test the water and follow the drinking water standards set for community water systems, If needed, households on private wells may need to install the appropriate treatment mechanisms based on the water chemistry.

  • Get tips for testing well water here.
  • Learn more about drinking water quality and private wells here.
Public Water Systems. Community water systems continually monitor water input and output quality to ensure that the water delivered to residents meets U.S. EPA Safe Drinking Water standards. The state Environment Department is working closely with each individual water system to ensure that any necessary water treatment is provided. Residents should contact their community water system if they have questions about the quality of their water.
  • Learn more about community water systems and drinking water quality here.

River Water Use (Surface Water) Health Recommendations

Drinking untreated water directly from the river - In any circumstance, the New Mexico Department of Health recommends that humans should not drink or ingest untreated surface water (directly from rivers, creeks, or other surface water bodies), to avoid risk of ingesting bacteria, parasites, and viruses (pathogens). The risk of excessive exposure to harmful contaminants in the water increases when the waters are polluted due to disasters such as wildfires, flooding, and mine spills.

Recreational Use- It is recommended that recreational users of any surface water (swimming, wading, kayaking, canoeing, boating) follow basic health protection practices when entering surface waters by wearing suitable clothing, using safety gear, immediately showering off and towel drying after getting out of lakes and rivers, taking care not to get the water up your nose and not ingesting the water.

Fish- People should take precautions with the fish they consume. Pregnant women should always monitor their fish consumption. For the latest advisory related the Animas River visit

General Health

The best health measure is to not drink untreated water directly from a river or surface waters. A health concern stems from people drinking water directly from the affected river. Anyone who has consumed water directly from the river and is experiencing health problems should see a healthcare provider to discuss ordering medical tests.

Typically, the initial symptom from drinking water high in heavy metals (or bacteria or other contaminants), is a sick feeling in the stomach. The risk of developing a specific disease depends on many factors such as: the specific contaminant; the concentration in the water and toxic potency of that contaminant; the way the contaminant enters the body (ingestion or direct skin contact); a person's individual susceptibility; and if the person is elderly, a child, pregnant, or immune compromised because these people are more likely to suffer ill effects.


pdf San Juan County Area Watersheds. (186.2 KB)

Get tips for testing well water here. Learn more about drinking water quality and private wells here.
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Content updated: Thu, 4 Jun 2020 16:26:02 MDT