Arkansas River Contamination Levels Unknown After Prison Sewage Leak

12/15/2011 01:38 pm ET

State officials say raw sewage from three Canon City state prisons has been leaking into a creek that empties into the Arkansas River.

The sewer line backed up after being jammed by a foreign object, state prisons spokeswoman Katherine Sanguinetti told the Denver Post. The blockage started Sunday but wasn't discovered until Tuesday, and health department officials say signs will tell people to keep out of the river until more tests can be completed to determine whether it's safe.

The backed-up sewer line that reportedly serves approximately 2,000 inmates spilled into a wastewater lagoon and then into a creek that empties into the river. The city of Florence, the nearest city downstream, hasn't drawn water from the river in nine days according to the corrections department.

"The spill was stopped after discovery and the discharge to the Arkansas River was confined to the arroyo," Dr. Chris Urbina, Colorado's Chief Medical Officer and Executive Director of CDPHE told the Canon City Daily Record.

While the amount of sewage that has leaked into the river is still under investigation, Sanguinetti said that preliminary tests have found the water to be diluted. Water sampling results are due back later this week.

Flickr photo via Yinghai.