The Gold King Mine is located within the Bonita Peak Mining District (BPMD) Superfund site in southwestern Colorado that consists of 48 historic mines or mining-related sources that release metal-laden water and sediments into Mineral Creek, Cement Creek and Upper Animas River drainages in San Juan County, Colorado. Those drainages flow into the Animas and San Juan Rivers in New Mexico where the water is used for drinking water, recreation, agricultural, and cultural practices. For decades, legacy BPMD mining operations, like the Gold King Mine, have contaminated surface water in New Mexico with heavy metals and acidic mine drainage.
The Gold King Mine (GKM), was the site of a significant blowout on August 5, 2015, that released millions of gallons of water laden with toxic metals and acidic waste into Cement Creek, then into the Animas River and the San Juan River in New Mexico, the Navajo Nation, and Utah. The plume of contaminated water adversely affected New Mexico residents, agricultural and recreational tourism industries, and natural resources along those rivers.
On April 7, 2016, the EPA proposed the greater Bonita Peak Mining District Site for addition to the National Priority List (NPL) and the Site was formally added to the NPL on September 9, 2016.
The Gold King Mine and BPMD are located in San Juan County in southern Colorado. New Mexico is a downstream community impacted by the mines in the BPMD, through the transport of hazardous substances into and through the Animas and San Juan Rivers.
Natural Resource Damage Assessment Approach The ONRT assessed natural resource injuries resulting from contamination from the Gold King Mine release. The Trustees took additional steps as provided by CERCLA to identify and quantify those injuries and decided a claim was warranted. ONRT conducted a review of readily available information and concluded that various operations at the Site resulted in the release of hazardous substances that injured natural resources and that it was reasonable to proceed with a natural resource damage claims.
Settlement with the Mining Defendants-2021 In January 2021, the State of New Mexico and Sunnyside Corporation and its parent companies, Kinross Gold Corporation and Kinross Gold, U.S.A., Inc. (the three mining companies are collectively referred to as the “the Mining Defendants”) reached a settlement that includes a payment of $1 million by the Mining Defendants to the ONRT to implement natural resource restoration projects. On March 1, 2021, the settlement was approved by the U.S. District Court in a Consent Decree.
Settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-2022
In June 2022, the State of New Mexico and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reached a settlement that includes a payment of $10 million by the U.S. EPA to ONRT to implement natural resource restoration projects.
Settlement with the Contractor Defendants-2022
In December 2022, the State of New Mexico and U.S. EPA contractors Environmental Restoration, LLC and Weston Solutions, Inc. known together as the “Contractor Defendants”, reached a settlement that includes a payment of $2 million by the Contractor Defendants to ONRT to implement natural resource restoration projects.
ONRT has conducted two restoration planning processes for the Gold King Mine release.
Cedar Hill Boat Ramp on the Animas River – San Juan County
The Cedar Hill Boat Ramp project will construct a new river access point and boat ramp on the Animas River in Cedar Hill, New Mexico. The Project is located on a 5.2-acre property owned by the County adjacent to U.S. Highway 550 and the Animas River. The goal of this Project is to increase recreational opportunities to compensate for lost access to in-water recreation and lost revenues associated with tourism due to the GKM spill. As of February 2023, the project was near completion.
Downstream view of the Animas River from the Cedar Hill Boat Ramp location. February 2023 conditions.
Festival and Farmer’s Market Pavilion at Gateway Park – City of Farmington
The Festival and Farmer’s Market Pavilion Project will construct a permanent outdoor covered space and designated market location for the farmer’s market in Farmington, NM. The Project will consist of a 2,500 to 3,000 square foot pavilion with electricity, roll-up door enclosures, restrooms, and other amenities and will be one component of a larger effort to revitalize Gateway Park as a signature park for the Farmington community and visitors. The purpose of this project will be to compensate for lost agricultural opportunities by creating a permanent community space and reducing the burden of farmers to participate in the market. The farmer’s market is held weekly on Tuesdays and Saturdays from June through October.
Current Farmers Market Location in exposed parking lot at the Farmington Museum. February 2023 conditions.
San Juan Valley Soil Health Restoration Project – San Juan County Soil and Water Conservation District
The San Juan Valley Soil Health Restoration Project will implement soil health improvement practices on farmland in the San Juan River Valley, with a focus on agricultural lands that were fallow due to lack of irrigation water during and after the GKM spill. The goal is to assist farmers improve soil health, focusing on communities most affected by the spill.
A Shiprock Chapter House farm field prepared for late winter planting. February 2023 conditions.
Agricultural Irrigation System Upgrade Project – Tse Daa Kaan (Hogback) Navajo Community
The Tse Daa K’aan (Hogback) Agricultural Irrigation System Upgrade Project will upgrade the existing irrigation pump and sedimentation basin. ONRT has conditionally agreed to fund the purchase and installation of new pumps as one component of the overall project.
Existing pump connection platform from Hogback Canal. February 2023 conditions.
Restoration Planning Process #2-U.S. EPA and EPA Contractors
The second planning process for the Gold King Mine U.S. EPA ($10 million) and Contractor Defendants ($2 million) settlements began in August 2022. ONRT published a press release and sent a letter to local stakeholders on August 12, 2022, to solicit project proposals. ONRT evaluated all proposed restoration projects and completed the Final Natural Resource Restoration Plan #2 for the 2015 Gold King Mine Release on May 30, 2023 which commits funding for 10 projects and includes a description of the projects and results of the evaluation. The projects selected for funding are:
City of Aztec, Construction of North Main Wastewater Management Infrastructure ($480,000)
City of Aztec, Rehabilitation of Raw Water Reservoir 1 ($950,000)
City of Farmington, Construction of Whitewater Wave and Irrigation Diversion Dam at Farmington Gateway Park ($2,000,000)
Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife, Construction of Nenahnezad Chapter San Juan River Boat Ramp ($65,575)
New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, San Juan River Water Lease Agreement Partnership ($1,803,000)
New Mexico State Parks Division, Construction of an Aquatic Invasive Species Station on San Juan River Quality Waters ($205,226)
San Juan County, Construction of San Juan River Public Boat Ramps and Park Improvements ($681,440)
San Juan County, Construction of the San Juan County Extension Service Office Building ($2,300,000)
San Juan County, Construction of Water and Wastewater Improvements for the Totah Subdivision ($1,000,000)
San Juan Soil and Water Conservation District, Construction of Irrigation Ditch Diversion Project ($1,616,600)
For more information on the Gold King Mine and the ONRT restoration planning processes, please see the following: