Colorado’s winter snowpack has begun to melt, and river flows throughout the Animas River watershed are on the rise. Every spring, runoff transports naturally occurring sediments downstream. Some of these sediments originate in the San Juan Mountains and are naturally high in certain heavy metals. This may cause the river to display a cloudy, turbid appearance or a change in color. This year’s below-average snowpack is expected to produce lower flows than previous years. River water discoloration may be more noticeable during low flows.

This natural process occurs every spring and is closely monitored by San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH), San Juan County, the United States Geological Survey (USGS), and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). On April 3rd, these agencies reinstalled continuous water quality monitoring technology at five locations in the Animas River and its major tributaries. These stations allow public health officials, emergency mangers, and the general public to view several indicators of river water quality around the clock. The stations’ live feeds can be accessed from this address: https://co.water.usgs.gov/infodata/Animas/index.html.

In addition, multiple agencies regularly take water samples throughout the Animas River watershed. These samples are analyzed at a laboratory to determine the levels of various heavy metals present in river water. Data indicate that the public should see no additional risk to human or environmental health from normal use of the Animas River. Of course, it is always wise to take certain precautions to protect your health when recreating in the wild:

Tips for River Users:

  • It is always a good public health practice to wash with soap and water after exposure to untreated river water or sediment.
  • Because children sometimes ingest water and soil when playing in or around the river, they should be supervised closely to limit their exposure to untreated water or sediments.
  • When using any river or stream as water source be sure to properly treat water before consumption.