What the #AnimasRiver can learn from the #ArkansasRiver — Trout Unlimited

Headwaters of the Arkansas River basin. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journlaism

From Trout Unlimited (Kara Armano):

Let’s take a minute to daydream. Close your eyes and envision beautiful mountain scenery and cold, clean water drifting through the valley floor, bugs flitting through the clear, blue sky, and the possibility of sighting wildlife around every bend. Listen to the birds chirping and the sound of water running over the backs of logs and rocks. Now picture over 100 miles of this river stacked with browns and rainbows. This is not a dream. This is the Arkansas River in central Colorado.

At one point in history, not too long ago, this was not the Arkansas we now know. It was severely contaminated from hardrock mining to the degree of needing a Superfund designation to clean it up. But clean it up they did. After years of remediation work, the Arkansas has rebounded better than imagined, becoming the Gold Medal river we know today.

Chaffee County Commissioner Greg Felt said, “When I first began fishing the Arkansas in 1985, one could catch a lot of fish, but they were small and in poor condition due to water quality issues. With the successful effort to improve that, we began to see fish live much longer and healthier lives, and the diversity of our aquatic entomology really flourished. While a Superfund project is not a quick nor easy process, the payoff for the fishery, and for anglers, local businesses, residents, and visitors has been phenomenal.”

This is also the hope for the Animas River just a few hundred miles to the southwest. Named a Superfund cleanup site in 2016, the Animas headwaters have a similar storied past of hardrock mining. Since the mining boom of the 1880s, the Upper Animas has seen massive heavy metal loads flowing through a wilderness section and into the town of Durango. Luckily, the metals dissolve significantly to leave the lower reaches valuable for anglers with its four miles of Gold Medal designation through Durango. But just imagine what could happen with the remainder of the river after the Superfund cleanup is complete.

We’ve already seen glimpses of rehabilitation on the Animas River. During a brief period when a wastewater treatment plant was in place at the headwaters, trout numbers in the upper reaches were about 400 fish per mile. Once that treatment plant was removed in 2004, numbers dropped to 100 fish per mile in 2010 and a dismal 73 fish per mile last year. The same is true for macroinvertebrates. The celebrated pale morning dun was once a character of the river landscape, but since the closure of the plant, they have been nonexistent. Clearly, remediation of any level is beneficial to trout and trout food.

If the Animas River Valley, its citizens and businesses, anglers and recreationists can learn anything from the Arkansas River success story, it’s this: hope is not lost. It will take time, but the Animas River will return to a healthy habitat for our beloved trout.

On April 7, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed adding the “Bonita Peak Mining District” to the National Priorities List, making it eligible for Superfund. Forty-eight mine portals and tailings piles are “under consideration” to be included. The Gold King Mine will almost certainly be on the final list, as will the nearby American Tunnel. The Mayflower Mill #4 tailings repository, just outside Silverton, is another likely candidate, given that it appears to be leaching large quantities of metals into the Animas River. What Superfund will entail for the area beyond that, and when the actual cleanup will begin, remains unclear.
Eric Baker

May 1 San Juan #snowpack update — Jonathan Thompson (@JonnyPeace) #runoff

Westwide SNOTEL May 5, 2019 via the NRCS.

From RiverOfLostSouls.com (Jonathan Thompson):

Snow levels have presumably peaked in the San Juan Mountains and, as expected, they look pretty darned healthy. That said, it’s not quite the biggest snow year on the books. How 2019 ranks depends on which SNOTEL station you’re looking at.

…as of May 1, this year’s snow levels were the second highest at Red Mountain Pass and Columbus Basin, fourth highest at the lower elevation Cascade station, and fifth at Molas Lake (which seems off to me).

But whether it was a record year or not, it’s clear that it has been — and continues to be — a good year for water supplies and river flows in the whole region. At every station the snowpack remains far above average, and three to four times what it was at this time last year. Also, one only needs to look at all the snow slide debris in the high country to determine that it was a historic avalanche cycle…

But that was past. What about the near future? How high will the Animas River get this year?

It’s already hit 3,000 cubic feet per second in Durango, which is plenty of flow for some good kayaking and rafting (albeit a bit chilly). And it’s fair to bet that it will top 5,000 cfs before the runoff is over. But whether it will shoot up past 8,000 cfs as it did in 2005 (which saw a smaller snowpack at most stations in the watershed) or not is anyone’s guess.

Just because the snowpack is bigger than 2005 doesn’t mean the runoff will hit a bigger peak. A cool spring will result in a slower melt, and that will mean a higher average flow and a longer rafting season, but not necessarily a bigger peak.

Either way, the reservoirs are likely to get a bit of a boost, and the smaller ones will likely get topped off. As for Lake Powell rising back up to its former glory? Don’t get your hopes up.

Animas River at Durango March 1 through May 6. 2019 via USGS

#AnimasRiver: The @EPA hopes to improve aquatic life in four reaches

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 (Jonathan Romeo):

The Environmental Protection Agency has named four areas in the Animas River basin where it plans to focus on improving water quality for aquatic life.

The EPA recently released a study assessing risks in aquatic habitats, a result of years of sampling and testing water quality in the Animas River basin around Silverton.

Andrew Todd, an aquatic toxicologist for the EPA, said the study confirmed many suspicions throughout the watershed: In areas where water had low pH and elevated metals, fish and other aquatic life populations were highly impaired or non-existent.

But the study also helped inform the EPA about what areas the agency could focus on with cleanup projects, he said, where marked benefits, such as restoring aquatic populations, could be achievable.

The areas include:

  • The Animas River just below the confluence of Elk Creek, about 5 miles downstream of Silverton.
  • The upper Animas River from Howardsville to just above the confluence with Cement Creek.
  • The south fork of Mineral Creek.
  • Upper Mineral Creek from Mill Creek to just above the confluence with the middle fork of Mineral Creek.
  • […]

    Christina Progress, Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site manager, said a final decision on the EPA’s quick-action plan that seeks to address 26 mining sites over the next five years or so should be announced in the next month or two.

    Progress said the cleanup projects in the proposed plan are in line with the EPA’s four identified priority areas.

    Weather permitting, Progress told The Durango Herald, the EPA plans to conduct four or five projects this summer. The low water year in 2017-18 and the high water year in 2018-19 are also allowing the EPA to get a better idea of the hydrology of the mountains.

    Because Cement Creek has never been known to support aquatic life, it was not considered in this part of the EPA’s process, Progress said. The mines draining into upper Cement Creek are considered some of the worst loaders of heavy metals in the basin.

    “We need a lot more understanding of the groundwater system to understand how best to address those (mine) sources,” she said. “We know it’s a significant area of contamination and prohibitive to our overall success.”

    Progress said the EPA’s human health risk assessment should also be released in the next month or so. A terrestrial health risk assessment is expected this fall, she said.

    Photo gallery: Durango and Silverton railroad clears path for first ride May 4

    Photo credit: http://riveroflostsouls.com

    Ride along with Jonathan Romeo from The Durango Herald to see what the operators of the Durango narrow gauge railroad are working against to clear the route to Silverton. Here’s an excerpt:

    The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, with the help of Durango-based Bonds Construction, has cleared the 45-mile track from Durango to Silverton.

    Bonds Construction posted to its Facebook page this week that crews plowed through 42 avalanche/slide areas over the course of 14 miles in the past few weeks. As a result, the tracks were cleared two weeks ahead of schedule…

    The D&SNG’s route from Durango to Silverton doesn’t encounter true avalanche danger until it reaches Cascade Canyon, about 26 miles north of the train station in Durango. From there, north to Silverton, eight to 10 avalanche paths can reach the railroad tracks.

    But this year, crews saw avalanche paths slide that had never been witnessed running before. One particular avalanche was near Needleton, which put 60 feet of debris on the tracks.

    By all accounts, the D&SNG will be ready to make its first round-trip from Durango to Silverton on May 4.

    Farmington: San Juan County Emergency Manager Mike Mestas to report at meeting Wednesday (April 3, 2019) that the recent outage for the #CementCreek water treatment plant did not impact water quality

    Gold King mine treatment pond via Eric Vance/EPA and the Colorado Independent

    From The Farmington Daily Times:

    Officials will hear confirmation from the county’s emergency management manager on Wednesday that contaminated water recently released from the Gold King Mine did not adversely impact water quality downstream in the Animas River.

    San Juan County Emergency Manager Mike Mestas will speak about the mine’s status in his presentation to the San Juan Water Commission during its monthly meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the San Juan Water Commission Office Building, 7450 E. Main St. in Farmington.

    The presentation will serve as an update for county water commissioners on the Gold King Mine spill of 2015, and what has happened since then.

    The mine, near Silverton, Colorado, created concerns for water quality this winter when storms and avalanche danger cut off access to the facility that treats water draining from the mine.

    The facility also lost power at that time, causing untreated water to bypass the plant and drain into Cement Creek for 48 hours.

    #Runoff/#Snowpack news: In the #AnimasRiver Valley highs in the 60s and plenty of solar radiation have kicked off the snowmelt season

    Screen shot of the USGS Water Watch streamflow map for Colorado March 30, 2019.

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    A water gauge on the Animas River near the Powerhouse Science Center saw levels rise from 300 cubic feet per second Monday to more than 700 cfs as of Friday afternoon.

    Water levels came close, but not close enough, to a previous high for March 29 set in 1916 of 1,100 cfs. The water gauge near the Powerhouse has 108 years of records.

    Throughout the past week, daytime highs have lingered in the mid-60s, prompting the first round of snowmelt and runoff…

    But early next week, Kormos said temperatures will rise once again, and the river along with it. By late next week, the center calls for the Animas River to exceed 1,000 cfs, though Kormos noted forecasts that far out are difficult to predict.

    According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Animas, Dolores, San Juan and San Miguel river basins are at 161 percent of historic, normal averages as of Wednesday, the latest available data. Those snow totals, however, are taken from weather stations placed in high elevations…

    The rise in water and promise of a sustained spring runoff is a welcome sight to members of the boating community, especially after one of the lowest water years on record in 2018.

    @EPA provides update on Bonita Peak Superfund site water treatment plant and sampling data — Global Mining Review #AnimasRiver

    The EPA’s wastewater treatment plant near Silverton, Colorado, on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2015 — photo via Grace Hood Colorado Public Radio

    From the EPA via Global Mining Review:

    Yesterday, EPA released preliminary water quality sampling data related to the temporary shutdown of the interim water treatment plant at the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site at Gladstone (Colorado). EPA’s analysis confirms that there were no adverse impacts to downstream drinking water or agricultural users associated with the short-term shutdown of the plant based on data that indicate minimal to no changes in water quality at sampling points downstream of Silverton in Durango. There were no observed impacts to aquatic life. Any impacts to aquatic life would be limited to the Animas River near Silverton.

    The water treatment plant went offline on the evening of 14 March due to extreme weather conditions resulting in a power surge that tripped critical circuit breakers at the facility. The same weather event triggered an avalanche and several snow slides across the county road and prevented access to the plant. After a period of less than 48 hours, EPA brought plant back online and resumed normal operations on the afternoon of 16 March.

    “EPA appreciates the efforts of our partners in San Juan County Colorado and the water plant operators for working quickly to minimise the length of time the facility was out of operation and limit any localised impacts to water quality,” said EPA Regional Administrator Doug Benevento.

    “During and after the treatment plant shutdown, real time measurements of turbidity, pH and electrical conductivity from sondes in the Animas River provided no indication that downstream water users would be adversely impacted,” said New Mexico Environment Department Chief Scientist Dennis McQuillan.

    “EPA’s laboratory test results confirm the interpretation of real time sonde data.”

    EPA collected water samples at four locations along the Animas River from Cement Creek to Durango from 15 – 21 March. A preliminary analysis of the sampling data from 15 – 20 March shows a measurable elevation of metals concentrations, particularly copper, at the confluence of Cement Creek and the Animas River, about six miles below Gladstone. Levels of metals were slightly elevated at a location on the Animas River approximately one mile south of Silverton.

    Heavy metal concentrations in the Animas River at two sampling locations in Durango were well within the range of concentrations previously observed when the treatment plant is operating. The detections of low concentrations of metals in the Animas River may be associated with the temporary closure of the plant, but they may also be related to several other factors that should be considered when evaluating these data.

    These include snow and avalanche debris being deposited in Cement Creek, the Animas River and local waterways which potentially introduced metals containing soils and sediments. There is also the potential for the ongoing rain and runoff at lower elevations to mobilise metals containing sediments from the 416 fire at locations below the confluence of Hermosa Creek and the Animas River.

    Preliminary data can be viewed at https://response.epa.gov/GladstoneWTP. Data from samples collected on 21 March will available on this website later this week.