New Mexico allocates grants from $32M mine spill settlement

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Six entities impacted by the 2015 Gold King Mine spill will share roughly $4 million in grants from a settlement, according to the New Mexico Attorney General’s office.

Outgoing Attorney General Hector Balderas announced earlier this month that nearly $4.3 million will be divided among multiple municipalities and agencies.

The cities of Aztec and Farmington in San Juan County, the San Juan Soil and Water Conservation District, the state tourism department and the New Mexico State University Extension Service will all receive six-figure grants.

To be recipients of the grant program, they submitted a proposal to the New Mexico Attorney General’s office.

“Out of tragedy comes hope, and I am honored to award these amazing applicants and their ideas to invest in their own communities,” Balderas said in a statement.

The grant funds come from the overall $32 million settlement reached in June between New Mexico and the U.S. government over the spill that polluted rivers in three western states. The spill released 3 million gallons (11 million liters) of wastewater from the inactive Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado, sending a bright-yellow plume of arsenic, lead and other heavy metals south to New Mexico, through the Navajo Nation and into Utah through the San Juan and Animas rivers.

FILE – Water flows through a series of sediment retention ponds built to reduce heavy metal and chemical contaminants from the Gold King Mine outside Silverton, Colo., Aug. 14, 2015. In December 2022, outgoing Attorney General Hector Balderas announced six entities impacted by the 2015 Gold King Mine spill will share roughly $4 million in grants from a settlement. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

Water utilities were forced to scramble and shut down intake valves — and farmers stopped drawing from the rivers as the contaminants moved downstream.

Under the New Mexico agreement, the federal government will make cash payments for response costs, environmental restoration and efforts to mitigate negative perceptions about the area’s rivers following the spill. Money also will go toward monitoring water quality and other cleanup activities.

In 2021, the state also received $11 million in damages from the mining companies.

Under that agreement, $10 million will be paid to New Mexico for environmental response costs and lost tax revenue and $1 million will go to Office of the Natural Resources Trustee for injuries to New Mexico’s natural resources.