Gov. Doug Ducey is willing to drink water from the Colorado River in the wake of a toxic waste spill upstream – but only if his environmental director gives him the thumbs up.
That’s what Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper did on Aug. 11, taking what he called a “full slurp” from the Animas River. Hickenlooper was trying to show it’s safe to go rafting in the wake of 3 million gallons of toxic mine waste being released.
Ducey was headed to the Navajo Reservation on Aug. 14 on what had been a previously scheduled trip. He initially dodged questions of whether, once there, he’s willing to follow Hickenlooper’s lead.
“We’re monitoring the situation closely,” the governor said. “This is critical to our drinking water, our infrastructure, the health and safety of our people.”
Ducey said a staffer from the state Department of Environmental Quality is in northern Arizona “monitoring the situation.”
“I’ve looked at these pictures,” of the Animas River running bright yellow. The water eventually winds up in the Colorado River, including Lake Powell.
“It’s a shame and it’s scary what’s happening out there,” Ducey said.
But will he drink the water?
“If our DEQ director says it’s safe, then I will, of course,” the governor said.
But even Hickenlooper didn’t drink the water exactly as it came out of the river.
The Durango Herald reports the Colorado governor, at the request of his own environmental chief, first put in an iodine tablet and waited for 30 minutes. That would kill bacteria like E. coli and parasites like Giardia but would have no effect on toxic metals.
And Hickenlooper said it wasn’t his intent to suggest that people should be drinking river water — even with iodine tablets. Instead, he wanted to prove that the level of toxic metals was back to pre-release conditions, making the river safe again for rafting.
The Herald, which first suggested Hickenlooper drink the water, reported that the governor called back on Aug. 12 and reported he was in good health.
“If that shows that Durango is open for business, I’m happy to help,” the paper quoted him as saying.
It remains to be seen whether DEQ will give Ducey the go ahead to take his own big gulp.
Agency spokesman Kurt Maurer said DEQ is “closely monitoring” the Colorado River to track potential contamination and protect public health and safety.
“But even under normal conditions, we would never advise members of the public to drink untreated water directly out of any Arizona river or stream,” he said.