The governors of Colorado and New Mexico declared states of emergency on Monday after a federal clean-up crew accidentally dumped three million gallons of toxic wastewater into the Animas River, the Albuquerque Journal reports.

“The magnitude of it, you can’t even describe it,” New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez told KRQE after seeing the orange plume that now stretches 100 miles long. “It’s like when I flew over the fires, your mind sees something it’s not ready or adjusted to see.”

Officials say an EPA team using heavy equipment caused the spill on Wednesday while breaching a suspended mine. From CNN:

Instead of entering the mine and beginning the process of pumping and treating the contaminated water inside as planned, the team accidentally caused it to flow into the nearby Animas River. Before the spill, water carrying “metals pollution” was flowing into a holding area outside the mine.


Officials said they believe the spill carried heavy metals, mainly iron, zinc and copper, from the mine into a creek that feeds into the Animas River. From there, the orange water plugged steadily along through the small stretch of winding river in southern Colorado and across the state border to New Mexico where the Animas meets the San Juan River.

On Monday, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper announced that the state of emergency declaration would allow him to use $500,000 in emergency funds to address the disaster.

“We will work closely with the EPA to continue to measure water quality as it returns to normal,” said Gov. Hickenlooper in a statement, “but also to work together to assess other mines throughout the state to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

According to USA Today, by Monday evening, the plume had reached Utah.

[Image via KRQE]

Correction: The post originally stated the spill had leaked into the Colorado River. It was, in fact, the Animas River.