animas watershed flyerThis spring, as our community begins to return to the Animas River after months of frigid flows, San Juan Basin Health wants to celebrate this great living resource during National Public Health Week. We will be hosting a community meeting on April 7 at 7 p.m., in the Durango Public Library.

It is important to remember that discoloration of the Animas River occurs every spring as sediment is stirred up into flowing water. Because of sediments left behind the by Gold King Mine spill, there may be a brief period this spring where the river is visibly discolored orange. However, these sediments are a small fraction of the total sediment load that is in the river. Snowmelt will stir up sediments from a variety of sources, so water quality and health risks in spring runoff this year will be generally the same as in previous years.

SJBH does not anticipate spring runoff will pose any additional human health risks as compared to previous years. If conditions change, emergency action plans are in place to protect community health and safety and to notify river users. Many eyes are now on the issue of watershed health and we look forward to working with the community on improving the state of our river and our community’s health.

Fisherman should note that the Animas River has been affected by acid-mine runoff for decades and that has been detrimental to fish populations. A fish die-off did not occur and macro-invertebrate populations were maintained during last summer’s Gold King Mine spill, so it is believed that fishing has not been further impacted. The State of Colorado sampled tissue from fish in the Animas River and found that they were safe to eat, with metal levels consistent with fish samples from around the state.

Tips for River Users

  • It is always a good public health practice to wash with soap and water after exposure to an untreated natural water source.
  • As a precautionary measure, it is advisable to avoid extended contact with sediment or standing water that is noticeably orange in color.
  • It is always good practice to rinse your boating and fishing equipment following use.
  • Always properly treat river water before using it as a source of drinking water.
  • Closely supervise children to minimize their potential of ingesting large amounts of river water or sediment.

Local, state, and federal partners are working to create a monitoring and notification plan to inform river users should conditions on the Animas become a health concern. Residents can sign up for text, call, and/or email alerts about river conditions through the La Plata County Code Red system.