Monitoring of Animas River ramps up as spring runoff increases

Public can see live feeds at USGS site

The U.S. Geological Survey gauge was installed in Durango in 2016 to test for additional indicators of water quality. Enlargephoto

Jonathan Romeo/Durango Herald file

The U.S. Geological Survey gauge was installed in Durango in 2016 to test for additional indicators of water quality.

As flows rise on the Animas River with spring runoff, the water may look cloudy or change color because naturally occurring sediment is being carried downstream.

Five monitoring stations along the river and its tributaries were reinstalled this spring to allow health officials, emergency managers and the public to view indicators of water quality around the clock, according to a release from San Juan Basin Public Health. The live feeds from the monitoring stations can be viewed at co.water.usgs.gov/infodata/Animas/index.html.

In Durango, the Animas River was running Friday at 1,450 cubic feet per second, well above average for this time of year but far below the record flow of 2,710 cfs on the date in 1985, according to the U.S. Geological Survey site.

The agencies involved in the monitoring – SJBPH, San Juan County, the USGS and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment – also are frequently sampling water and sediment at six locations in the Animas River watershed. The samples are analyzed to determine the levels of various heavy metals in the water and sediment.

Officials expect a normal spring runoff, with no impacts to human or environmental health from normal recreational use of the Animas River, the release said.

San Juan Basin Public Health, though, said those who use the river should remember that the water and sediment are not treated, and offered these tips to river users:

Wash with soap and water after exposure to untreated river water or sediment;Supervise children to ensure they don’t ingest water and soil when playing in or around the river, and limit their exposure to untreated water or sediment;Properly treat any river or stream water before consumption, and Rinse fishing and boating equipment after each use.Monitoring of river quality increased in the wake of the Aug. 5, 2015, Gold King Mine spill, which unleashed 3 million gallons of toxic mine waste into the watershed.

Reports have indicated that the river quickly returned to pre-spill quality. The watershed has long been affected by heavy metal runoff from abandoned and closed mines.

Last fall, the Environmental Protection Agency designated the Bonita Peak Mining District as a Superfund site.

The agency spent last summer and fall surveying the district and has set some priorities for work this year.