We’re from the government and we’re here to help?

Apparently, not. The EPA is under fire today after workers from the agency accidentally triggered a leak of wastewater while attempting to clean up an old gold mine near the city of Durango, Colorado, sending an estimated one million gallons of the toxic liquid into the Animas River.

Photos of the river show the extent of the damage:

So, how exactly does this happen? Basically, the EPA screwed up. Big time:

Peter Butler, who serves as a co-coordinater of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, a roundtable, said the EPA knew there was water sitting at the mine.

“It was known that there was a pool of water back in the mine, and EPA had a plan to remove that water and treat it, you know, slowly. But things didn’t go quite the way they planned and there was a lot more water in there then they thought, and it just kind of burst out of the mine.”

Butler offered cautious support for the EPA’s work at the mine, in light of the spill.

“I think that they were doing a reasonable job, maybe there were some other steps that could have been taken, that could have prevented it. But I think it was a big surprise for almost everybody,” said Butler.

The next step is for the EPA to determine how much damage it just did to the environment:

The wastewater released contains heavy metals including lead, arsenic, cadmium, and aluminum, Ostrander said. The EPA is preparing a plan to sample private water wells along the Animas River valley to test for contamination, including mercury contamination, he said.

And they want to let residents in the area know that they are very, very sorry that this happened:

“First off, I’d like to just say I’m sorry for what’s happened,” David Ostrander, the EPA’s head of emergency management told a standing-room-only crowd in Durango, Colorado Friday afternoon. “This is a huge tragedy, and it’s hard being on the other side of this, in terms of being the one who caused this incident.”

“We usually respond to emergencies, we don’t cause them,” said Ostrander.

Tell that to the people of Colorado whose town you just ruined.