Animas River water quality deteriorating

In 2005, the upper Animas River marked a milestone. At that time, the Colorado Division of Wildlife found a single living fish in the Animas just south of Silverton, a section of the river considered “ground zero” for pollution.

“There hasn’t been a striking turnaround, but we’re finding fish where we haven’t seen them before, and we’re seeing greatly improved body conditions on the fish we’re finding,” Mike Japhet, an aquatic biologist with the DOW, said at the time.

However, the flow has reversed its course, and that lonely brook trout has likely moved downstream. Water quality on the upper Animas River has deteriorated to its worst conditions in decades, and the prospects for improvement are not good.

That lone brook trout and improved river conditions owed thanks to the tireless work of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, a consortium of agencies and individuals that has worked for nearly two decades clean up old mines and adits in the Silverton area. The volunteer organization was created in 1994 when the Animas watershed failed to meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act. In the years since, the ARSG has worked to combine public, private and citizen efforts to stem pollution from mines and improve the water quality and aquatic habitats of the Animas. Thanks largely to the efforts of the stakeholders, the Animas River now meets requirements as it flows through Durango. However, that may not last.

“Unfortunately, it’s not looking so good for the Animas,” said Bill Simon, coordinator of the stakeholders. “We were making really good progress through remediation efforts. However, the metal loading in Cement Creek has radically increased in the last five years. The loading has overcome the gains we’ve made, and the pollution is back to where we were when we started off.”

Simon explained that pollution levels between Silverton and Baker’s Bridge are as bad as they have been since 1990. Last fall, the stakeholders conducted a fish survey at the Animas River’s confluence with Cascade Creek. In just a few years, three species of fish had disappeared from the section, and only hardy brook trout remained.

“I assume that we can expect these impacts to find their way to Durango as well,” Simon said.

Ironically, the culprit behind this pollution was an attempt to fix mine drainage. In 2004, Sunnyside Mining heeded a court decree and plugged its American Tunnel at the head of Cement Creek. However, the tainted water backed up, found its way to other openings and is now leaching out into the creek and running downstream to the Animas.

“The water’s now coming out of a bunch of other mines, and it’s nasty,” said Simon. “The new discharges are leaching presumably because of the bulkhead that was placed in the Sunnyside Mine.”

The Animas River Stakeholders Group is currently considering a variety of fixes for the problem. However, there are no easy answers. “There are a variety of options, all of which are costly,” said Simon.

Among those options would be Superfund designation for the Cement Creek drainage. However, Simon cautioned against holding out for a quick remedy to the problem.

“Stay tuned,” he said. “This process is going to take a while, and nobody, including the EPA, has any money right now. The economy’s just not there yet.”

Iron Horse road closures announced

Pedal power takes over the Durango area this weekend, and that means several road closures and detours for the motoring public.

On Sat., May 28, the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic will rule U.S. Highway 550 north of Durango. From the Iron Horse Inn to Hermosa, the highway will be limited to northbound vehicular traffic and southbound traffic will be detoured onto County Road 203. The detour will be in effect from 7:15-9:15 a.m. Just like the past 13 years, Hwy 550 will be closed between Durango Mountain Resort and Silverton from 8 a.m.-1:15 p.m. Only cyclists with current race numbers will be permitted on the highway.

On Sun., May 29, many of downtown Durango’s streets will be closed from 5 a.m.-6 p.m. to safely accommodate the kid’s race, the mountain bike race and the criterium.

The primary closures include Main Avenue and E. Second Avenue through downtown and E. Third Avenue between 7th and 10th streets. In addition, 9th and 10th streets will be closed from Main all the way east to the base of the Fort Lewis College Mesa.

Everyone is encouraged to turn out and celebrate the Iron Horse’s 40th anniversary at a bash at the D&SNG Train Museum starting at 7 p.m. Sun., May 29. “We have many cycling enthusiasts and businesses that have supported the event for decades,” said Ed Zink, the IHBC’s volunteer chairman. “Whether you were an active volunteer, or just cheerfully put up with the inconvenience, you have been part of the success.  Forty years of the best-run bike event in the country is something we can all be proud of.”

Last but not least, the IHBC Time Trial will run up County Road 250 from 7 a.m.-noon on Mon., May 30. The north bound lane will be closed to traffic for the duration of the race. The southbound lane will be open to traffic.

For more information go to

Colorado honored for bike friendliness

Colorado has again earned accolades for its bicycle and pedestrian friendliness. The National Complete Streets Coalition ranked Colorado as having the 5th best state-level policy in the country.

The study looked at the Colorado Department of Transportation’s internal policy and the 2010 Safer Streets law. Colorado scored strongly in design, phases of construction and process for exceptions. The report also evaluates city and county policies around the country and makes specific mention of La Plata County as well as Colorado Springs, Boulder, Fort Collins, Golden and Basalt.

– Will Sands




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