The Animas River between Silverton and Durango in Colorado within 24 hours of the 2015 Gold King Mine waste water spill. By Riverhugger (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The Animas River between Silverton and Durango in Colorado within 24 hours of the 2015 Gold King Mine waste water spill. By Riverhugger (Own work) CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Last August, about three million gallons of contaminated water poured out of the Gold King Mine in Colorado and into the nearby Animas River. The water from the mine was filled with heavy metals and turned the river yellow, forcing the waterway to close for more than a week.

Farms and businesses located downstream shut down until the river was deemed safe again for use. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took responsibility for the spill, which occurred when a crew working for the agency caused the spill during a cleanup operation of the mine.

New Mexico filed a lawsuit last month against the EPA and two of the mine’s owners. The lawsuit does not specify damages, but attorneys for the state said the spill caused an estimated $130 million in economic losses. The EPA has paid New Mexico $1.3 million connected to the spill.

Last week, New Mexico filed a second lawsuit over the Gold King Mine spill, this time naming the state of Colorado as a defendant. The new lawsuit is asking for damages related to the spill as well as requiring Colorado to come up with solutions to address the Gold King Mine issue and other abandoned mines in the state.

The latest lawsuit details how other mines were also leaking contaminants into the Animas River and its tributaries. Four inactive mines were leaking acidic water into Cemetery Creek, which feeds the Animas River. Plugs used at the Sunnyside Gold Mine caused wastewater to back up and create problems at other mines near Sunnyside.

The office of Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said the state would continue to work with New Mexico to find ways to clean up the river as well as put together a plan to deal with the other abandoned mines scattered across the state.

Both lawsuits will take time to move through the court system. However, taxpayers in New Mexico can breathe a sigh of relief. The money used to pay for the cases is coming from a fund that collected money from previous lawsuits. Legislators approved $1 million from the state Attorney General’s office consumer settlement fund to be spent on paying litigation fees in relation to the Gold King Mine spill. So far, more than $559,000 has been spent on the two cases by an outside law firm.

New Mexico may not be the only state to file federal lawsuits in the wake of the Gold King Mine spill. In February, the Utah Attorney General’s office said it was also preparing to file a lawsuit against the EPA because the agency was not as cooperative as the Attorney General expected. However, no lawsuit has been filed yet.

Do you expect more lawsuits to be filed? What do you think will be the outcome? Let us know in the comments.