Animas High School chemistry students take a look at surface water and wastewater

Silverton, Colo., lies an at elevation of 9,300 feet in San Juan County, and the Gold King Mine is more than 1,000 feet higher in the valley at the left side of the photo. Photo/Allen Best

From The Durango Herald (Patrick Armijo):

Marilyn Short and Luke Mick are gumshoes of sorts: They’re trying to solve the mystery of why the Animas River near Silverton has more caddisflies than would be expected after the Gold King Mine spill.

Sadie Vance, Abby Allsopp and Faith Mewmaw created an interactive fishing game where anglers using a yardstick converted to a fishing pole can test their luck catching wood cutouts of fish and attendant pollutants and heavy metals found in the Animas River.

Ryan Colley, Chole Walsh and Cole Elliott devised an interactive video game where players can learn how the upgrade to the wastewater-treatment plant at Santa Rita will cleanse the urban waste stream so it can be safely returned to the Animas.

They were among 65 Animas High School juniors in Steve Smith’s chemistry class who plunged into a subject that brings nervous jitters to many a former high-schooler as they delved into the world of ionic and covalent bonds and spectroscopy through the lens of studying water quality.

On Thursday evening at the Powerhouse Science Center, students presented projects from their study of water quality in the Animas River. About 150 people attended.

“Students get exposed to water quality in this town, and this allowed them to look at the issue in a different manner,” Smith said.

The students, he said, spent about two weeks on the projects, and the city of Durango and Mountain Studies Institute partnered with Short during the unit…

Chole, who joined Ryan and Cole in creating a video game based on upgrades to the wastewater-treatment plant at Santa Rita, said the city of Durango helped with research – and even provided a tour.

“We were introduced to how the water-treatment plant works. We were able to ask questions. It really helped me more than a basic lecture,” Chole said of her group’s Santa Rita tour.

The trio’s video game is only in its rudimentary stages, and the students want to develop more levels: As players advance, they gain more knowledge of the chemistry behind processes as wastewater moves through treatment stages before its eventual return to the Animas.

When asked if the trio could, on its own, do the necessary work to complete the video game, Ryan said, “If we had more time, I think we’d get decently close.”

Cole said the chemistry proved relatively easy to understand; the hard part of video game development was getting the game to operate properly on all three members’ laptops.

Marilyn’s study of caddisflies left one big impression: “I was surprised by how much life is in the river that I didn’t even know about.”

“Microinvertebrates are useful in determining water quality,” Luke said, adding he was stumped why the Animas near Silverton has more caddisflies than expected based on its water composition.

“No one really knows what’s up,” he said.

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