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Animas River Turns Colors, But Scientists Say It's No More Harmful Than Usual

Mountain Studies Institute

A little over a year ago, the Animas River ran yellow, the result of a catastrophic spill of mining wastes. Now, it is again discolored, thanks to recent heavy rains that stirred up sediment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the discoloration, which was reported Wednesday morning, was not related to work being done by the agency at the mine site. In an email, the EPA said downstream stakeholders were notified about the occurrence.

Meanwhile, an independent non-partisan research center that has been monitoring water quality in the Animas River says recent results are “encouraging.” The Mountain States Institute says samples collected at various times and conditions this year through August found levels of all metals in the water were safe for agricultural and recreational use. Concentrations of arsenic and mercury, which are of particular concern for human health, were also judged safe, along with copper, zinc, and selenium, considered most harmful to aquatic life.

However, at least twice this year, levels of manganese and lead exceeded state standards and concentrations of aluminum and iron were high enough to pose a danger to aquatic life. The Mountain States Institute’s report notes that such spikes occurred at times before the 2015 spill and that there is “a long history of degraded water quality in the Animas” related to historic mining.

Gail Binkly is a career journalist who has worked for the Colorado Springs Gazette and Cortez Journal. She is currently a freelance writer as well as the editor of the Four Corners Free Press, based in Cortez.
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