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In north valley, irrigation companies work to keep Animas River pollution out

Ditch companies shut off headgates before spill arrived
Ed Zink, middle, and Jud Hassel, both with the Animas Consolidated Ditch Co., and Eric Hassel, look over the head gate of the ditch on Saturday. They had closed the irrigation gate that takes water from the Animas River on Wednesday after an alert from the county about the toxic sludge from the Gold King Mine that was flowing toward Durango.

Many water users along the Animas River are without irrigation water, and some well users are on heightened alert for contamination after an estimated 1 million gallons of toxic mine spillage made its way downstream.

Irrigation ditches in the Hermosa Valley have some orange coloring from pollution after the Gold King Mine blowout, but headgates along the river were closed in time to keep most of the water out.

La Plata County notified the Animas Consolidated Ditch to close the gates before the pollution arrived, said Ed Zink, secretary of the Animas Consolidated Ditch Co. The consolidated ditch supplies about 300 households and the Ranch Subdivision with irrigation water on the west side of the Animas.

Animas Valley Ditch and Water Co. on the east side of the Animas, which serves 80 shareholders, also closed their headgate in time, said Cecilia Whitaker, who is on the board for the company.

The discolored water in the Animas River contains lead, zinc, aluminum, copper, cadmium and other heavy metals, according to EPA officials.

“We’ve been thorough and careful to have the ditch as closed off as we can,” he said.

But, the 60-year-old headgate for the Animas Consolidated Ditch is incapable of keeping all the water from the Animas River out, Zink said.

As a result, neighbors might notice some contaminated water in the ditch between the Animas River diversion south of Bakers Bridge and the Hermosa Creek headgate.

Those with water rights between those two points have had their water shut off during the emergency, he said.

Those below the Hermosa Creek diversion and the majority of the water users still have irrigation water, he said.

While neighbors will notice the discoloration in the ditch, the company is trying to limit the flow as much as possible.

“We didn’t want to be spreading all this stuff over all the farm ground,” he said.

The company is waiting for direction from the La Plata County Office of Emergency Management on when to open the headgate back up.

Zink said the board will be careful about opening the headgate back up, and the company’s lawyer has been contacted to help with the decision.

Alex Krebs, a beekeeper next to the Animas Consolidated Ditch, voiced concern about the pollution at a public meeting with Environmental Protection Agency officials Friday.

He asked for the EPA’s help to make sure the ditches were free of contamination.

“In the future, when they do let water flow through there again, there is going to be heavy-metal sediment in the ditches,” he said.

mshinn@durangoherald.com

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