Animas River watershed: Part two of series about the river, ‘Want water, take a number’ from The Durango Herald

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Here’s Part Two of the four part series about the Animas River from Dale Rodebaugh and The Durango Herald. Mr. Rodebaugh outlines how uses of the river have changed over time, from prehistoric times to the filling of Lake Nighthorse (full on June 29 this year), part of the Animas-La Plata Project. Here’s an excerpt:

Durango’s early exploitation of the Animas was as a conduit to get logs to sawmills, where they were turned into lumber and railroad ties.

Today, most of the water pulledfrom the river is for irrigation and consumption, but the city of Durango in 2007 obtained a decree that guarantees a certain amount of flow for a whitewater park at Smelter Rapid. Several entities have won such rights for recreation since legislation establishing recreation rights was enacted in2001.

Also, a certain amount of water is reserved to protect two fish species in the San Juan River – the Colorado pikeminnow and humped-back chub,which are federally listed as endangered.

Click through for the whole article and the slide show.

Here’s a look at how the USGS measures streamflow, from Dale Rodebaugh writing for The Durango Herald. From the article:

The USGS maintains more than 7,000 gauging stations on rivers and lakes across the country. The Durango office manages 41 stations in La Plata, Archuleta, Montezuma, San Juan, Dolores, San Miguel, Ouray and Montrose counties.

The station near U.S. Highway 550 and 14th Street went into service in 1895, only six years after the first one ever was installed in New Mexico on the Rio Grande River to help determine whether there was sufficient water for irrigation.

The USGS computerized its gauging nationally in 1983 and first made real-time data available online in 1995.

Click through for the whole article and the video of hydrologic technician Jennifer Dansie at work on calibration chores.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency is considering superfund status for parts of the upper Animas River watershed, according to Mark Esper writing for The Telluride Daily Planet. From the article:

And EPA officials said that while the collaborative approach to water quality in the upper Animas spearheaded by the Animas River Stakeholders Group has been successful, the worsening situation on Cement Creek has compelled the agency to study a possible Superfund listing.

“The problem is worsening water quality,” said Sabrina Forrest, site assessment manager for the EPA in Denver. Forrest explained that while the EPA considers the problem to be worthy of the National Priorities List (NPL) under the Superfund law, local support would be required as well as a sign-off from the governor.

“It’s eligible for listing, but community support is needed for that,” Forrest said. And if the Gladstone sites were to be eventually put on the NPL “the community would still have a huge voice on how this would be done.”[…]

Meanwhile, the EPA is planning a Sept. 16 site tour at Gladstone for those interested in getting a better idea of the situation on the ground up there. Forrest says the EPA hopes it can determine by Dec. 20 if there is enough local support for NPL listing to proceed. Under that timetable, the listing could be made official by March 2012.

The preliminary assessment work focused on a cluster of mine sites at and above Gladstone, including the American Tunnel, Gold King Number 7 level, the Mogul and Grand Mogul and the Red and Bonita mines. Peter Butler of Durango, a steering committee member for the Animas River Stakeholders Group, which was formed as a collaborative approach to water quality issues in 1994, said Cement Creek has seen a steady increase in metals loading since a treatment plant at Gladstone was shut down in 2004. Up to 845 gallons per minute of acid mine drainage is pouring into Cement Creek from just four abandoned mines above Gladstone…

At this point, Butler said possible solutions include various scenarios for a water treatment plant on Cement Creek, bulkheads for the four mines discharging the most, or some combination of that. Then comes the question of who pays. Butler said options include seeking damages from Sunnyside Gold’s parent company, Kinross; luring a large mining company to reopen the Gold King and take on the cleanup liability; taking an incremental approach with a pilot treatment project that could be expanded; invoking Superfund; or a combination thereof.

Todd Hennis of Golden, who described himself as the “unfortunate owner of the Gold King and Mogul mines,” said the EPA has been spinning “fairy tales.” “The problem started in 2000 when water started coming out of the Mogul,” Hennis said. He said that was a result of the American Tunnel bulkheads causing water to back up. The water table has since risen an estimated 1,000 feet, causing acid mine drainage to seep from ever higher points on the mountain. Hennis accused state officials of engaging in “pollution trading” with Sunnyside Gold, with a consent decree letting the mining firm off the hook for water quality problems in the Gladstone area. “The state of Colorado has a huge responsibility for this situation,” Hennis said. “Sunnyside walked out of this district and their $5 million bond was returned.” Hennis said the best solution would be for a mining firm to reopen the Gold King and assume responsibility for the water quality issues. Hennis said he thinks there is $700 million in gold still retrievable from the Gold King mine.

Here’s an article that details the course of the Animas River, including the geology, from its headwaters to the San Juan River, from Dale Rodebaugh writing for The Durango Herald. Here’s an excerpt:

At one time, [David Gonzales, a professor and chairman of the geosciences department at Fort Lewis College] said, gravel impelled by a glacier created a dam to form a lake in the Animas Valley. Later erosion of the debris drained the lake but caused the relatively flat and wide channel. The farthest reaching glacier, which receded about 12,000 years ago, carried gravel as far as 32nd Street, Gonzales said.

More Animas River watershed coverage here.

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