The Animas River fully reopened to the public at noon Friday, and the city resumed pumping raw water from the Animas River after health officials said sediment sampling showed levels of contamination "below what would be a concern for human health."
La Plata County Sheriff Sean Smith and federal environmental officials said earlier in the week that they would not consider reopening the river until at least Sunday. But news regarding the contamination incident continued to improve throughout the week.
"My primary concern is the public health and safety of our community," Smith said. "With the release of preliminary results from the state health department and its accompanying recommendation, I am opening our river for recreation."
The river reopening came with a health advisory, including urging the public to avoid areas with orange sediment or discolored standing water. Anyone coming in contact with any orange sediment or discolored standing water should wash with soap and water, the advisory states.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife, however, has not gotten results on the fish that were placed in cages and survived until they were taken out of the river Tuesday and frozen for analysis of metals accumulation in tissue and organs. Until those numbers are available, which might take as long as two weeks, people should not eat fish caught in the Animas.
The Animas had been closed for eight days, ever since an error by an Environmental Protection Agency-contracted crew sent an estimated 3 million gallons of mining wastewater into the river, turning it a mustard-yellow color. Initial tests showed spikes in metals in the river - such as arsenic, cadmium, copper, aluminum and lead - as well as a plummet in pH levels.
Both state and federal officials said this week that the water-quality levels had returned to pre-event conditions. Officials were just waiting on the sediment tests to make a final decision.
Liane Jollon, executive director of San Juan Basin Health Department, concurred with the analysis conducted by state and federal authorities.
"Right now, I have complete confidence in this decision," Jollon said in a statement.
Durango water treatment officials said that the raw water pumped from the Animas will receive further treatment. During pumping, the Utilities Department will continue to analyze water quality samples according to already established protocols to ensure the safety of our drinking-water supply. Residents and businesses can now resume "responsible" outdoor watering of yards and gardens, the city said.
"A huge thank you to our community," said Mayor Dean Brookie.
"We put out the call to discontinue outdoor irrigation, and the community responded by reducing their usage by more than 2 million gallons a day in just 48 hours. We appreciate everyone's cooperation in helping to keep our drinking water safe."