The Animas River is a complex river. The headwaters are at altitudes greater than 12,000 feet, beginning in the alpine life zone and within the highly mineralized San Juan Caldera and ending at 5,500 feet at the confluence with the San Juan River in semi-desert sage-brush scrublands and highly erosive sedimentary strata. Politically, the Animas River begins in the State of Colorado, flows through the Southern Ute Indian Tribe Reservation and into the State of New Mexico, flowing from EPA Region 8 into EPA Region 6.
There are numerous impacts to the Animas River beginning with pollution from historical hard-rock mining in the upper basin. Near Baker’s Bridge, diversions of water from the Animas River for irrigation begin and continue with regularity to the confluence with the San Juan River. Just downstream of Baker’s Bridge there are large impacts from current and historical in-stream gravel mining. Near Trimble Lane the effects of eutrophication begin to show up with effluent from Hermosa Sanitation District, runoff from lawns and golf courses and water from leaky septic tanks. Continuing through the Animas Valley the effects of improper grazing practices (both historical and current), sand mining and bank-hardening practices can be seen. In the Durango area the effects of urban runoff begin and immediately below Durango is the historical ore processing smelter (now a Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action site), the diversion of the Animas La Plata Project, effluent from the city of Durango’s waste water treatment plant, more urban runoff from the Bodo Park commercial/industrial area and effluent from the South Durango sewage treatment plant where the river enters the checkerboard reservation of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. Within the reservation boundaries and extending into New Mexico is extensive agricultural development that has resulted in a myriad number of inflows to the Animas that are high in nitrogen, phosphorus and sediments. Also in this reach are nutrient and sediment impacts from coal-bed methane extraction due to poorly designed pipeline crossings and poorly designed/maintained roads and well pads. At Aztec, New Mexico there is urban runoff and effluent from a sewage treatment plant. Continuing through Flora Vista, NM there is urban runoff as well as faulty septic tanks. At Farmington, NM, where the Animas flows into the San Juan River, there are further impacts from urban runoff (Figure 1, Figure 2 and Figure 3).
Work in the upper basin over the last 15 years by the Animas River Stakeholders Group has improved water quality caused by historical, hard-rock mining. The award and maintenance of a Recreational In-Channel Diversion in the river to the City of Durango, CO that maintains additional, dilutional flows will help protect water quality along with the restoration work completed by Trout Unlimited and others in the Animas River in Durango, CO. A bank stabilization project in New Mexico also serves as an excellent example of improving the functioning capacity of the river. The river has also recovered from extensive pollution caused by the ore processing in the 1950s and early 1960s just below Durango, CO with the removal of the uranium tailings pile that sat on the banks of the Animas River.
In the Animas Watershed, coordination, research and monitoring among local, state and federal agencies as well as local landowners began in 2002 with the Animas River Nutrient Workgroup (ARNW). The Animas Watershed Partnership (AWP), the successor to the ARNW, has numerous partners to work with in its effort to protect and improve the river condition and include the following entities: both the Cities of Farmington, NM and Durango, CO have in place programs to deal with storm-water runoff. The Southwest Wetlands Focus Area and the local Army Corps of Engineers Office has and can help with protecting and improving riparian conditions and functioning capacity of the river. The Animas River Stakeholders Group continues to address impacts from historical mine sites in the upper basin and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe is addressing water quality issues within the boundaries of the Reservation. The Surface Water Quality Bureau of the New Mexico Environment Department (SWQB) and the Water Quality Control Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment both are instrumental for funding monitoring, research and best management practices.
Coordinating and facilitating research, implementation of Best Management Practices (BMPs) and monitoring and coordinating communication of all the entities working on non-point source pollution in the watershed is the best role that the AWP can take as well as working on improving sites that have been identified as having impacts to the functioning capacity of the river and sites identified as high loaders of nutrients described in this Watershed Plan. It is recommended that the AWP act as a facilitating/communicating entity in the implementation of this Watershed Based Plan. It is highly recommended that each agency and entity completing monitoring, restoration work or resource utilization of the Animas River undertake semiannual reporting to the AWP as part of the coordination/facilitation efforts of the AWP and to help prioritize projects, leverage resources and eliminate duplicate work.
It is recommended that base funding for the AWP come from local agencies, businesses, cities, counties and water districts that have an interest in the health of the river. If it is left to the AWP to fund itself through grants little on the ground work will be accomplished. Funding for special projects is available from a number of funding entities depending on the type of project.
Educational/information material aimed at reducing pollution to the Animas River should be designed with and distributed through the Water Information Program, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Durango Natures Studies and the Mountain Studies Institute. Research and monitoring work should be coordinated through an independent entity such as the Mountain Studies Institute. Monitoring is currently completed by a number of entities: the local office of the Bureau of Reclamation in coordination with the Colorado River Watch, the Colorado Division of Wildlife, Colorado’s Water Quality Control Division, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s Water Quality Program and the Surface Water Quality Bureau within New Mexico.
Beyond coordination and communication, the process for the AWP to implement the Watershed Plan will be:
- Identify potential best management practices (BMPs) for each top pollution loading site identified in this plan utilizing the data and information in the Animas GIS Database as a starting point,
- Contact landowners and gage their willingness to participate in implementation of BMPs on their land, emphasizing the advantages to their land,
- Complete site visits with landowners and stakeholders and finalize strategies to move forward with design and construction of the BMPs,
- Complete design of BMPs,
- Develop cost estimates for the BMPs,
- Secure funding for the BMPs,
- Complete monitoring designs for the BMP’s effectiveness,
- Collect baseline data for monitoring the effectiveness of the BMPs,
- Complete construction of the BMPs,
- Complete post-construction monitoring and implement long-term monitoring to measure the effectiveness of the BMPs at reducing pollution loads to the Animas River.
To read more or download the Watershed Based Plan: click here