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Toxic Mine Waste Heading To Lake Mead

Environmental Protection Agency

As it monitored the wastewater spill that began August 5, the EPA took this photo of a sampling point near the source outside Silverton, Colo., on Sunday.

Mining waste from a spill in Colorado will eventually reach Lake Mead, Las Vegas’ main source of drinking water.

But officials with the Southern Nevada Water Authority say the amount will be so small in relation to the size of the lake that it will have virtually no effect on water quality here.

The spill of some 3 million gallons of waste into the Animas River happened last Wednesday in southwest Colorado. It sent arsenic and other contaminants into a waterway that flows into the San Juan National Forest.

It turned the river a bright orange color.​

The waste emptied into a river system that links to the Colorado River, which fills Lake Mead.

When that water reaches Lake Mead in about two weeks, it isn't likely to be orange anymore, said Dave Johnson, general manager of engineering and operations for the Southern Nevada Water Authority. It also isn't likely to be contaminated, he added.

Johnson said contaminants from the spill, which include heavy metals such as arsenic, will have been diluted several million times and have dropped to river and lake bottoms by the time they reach Lake Mead. 

Even so, the SNWA will add additional monitors between Lake Powell, which is upstream from Lake Mead, to ensure the water is not contaminated.

Johnson added that the SNWA is so sure the water in Lake Mead will be safe, it isn't even thinking about potential legal action against the federal agency that caused the spill.


Dave Johnson, deputy general manager, engineering and operations, Southern Nevada Water Authority

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.