The study is expected to be completed in 2020
The Utah Division of Water Quality, U.S. Geological Society, National Park Service and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation launched a study to determine the extent of mining pollution in Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona border. The study aims to monitor water quality in the lake, which also serves as a drinking water source to more than 40 million people in the Southwest.
According to the Associated Press, heavy metals have washed into Lake Powell from flash flooding and will be dug up from the river deltas to monitor metal concentrations. Researchers will test for arsenic, cadmium, copper, mercury and lead.
“This study will help us understand whether human activities such as mining in the San Juan River watershed have impacted or pose a risk to the important recreational, aquatic life and cultural resources of the San Juan River and Lake Powell,” said Erica Gaddis, director of the Utah Division of Water Quality.
“This is the first study to collect and characterize sediment through the full thickness of the San Juan and Colorado river deltas,” said Scott Hynek, a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey.
The investigation comes three years after the U.S. EPA triggered a release of toxic wastewater at the Gold King Mine in Colorado, resulting in an estimated 3 million gal of wastewater carrying 540 tons of metals washed into rivers. Utah has filed suit against EPA and is seeking $1.9 billion to recover damages in the San Juan River and Lake Powell.
Preliminary findings from the study are expected to be available in 2020.