Trout Unlimited, MSI launch Animas River monitoring


May 16, 2016

Contact: Ty Churchwell,, (970) 903-3010

Scott Roberts,, (865) 382-2993

Randy Scholfield,, (720) 375-3961

Trout Unlimited, MSI launch Animas River monitoring

After Gold King spill, aquatic bug life offers clues to the health of the river

(Durango)Trout Unlimited, Mountain Studies Institute and partners today announced plans for a multi-year monitoring of the Animas River to gauge the overall health of the Animas River and whether the Gold King Mine spill in 2015 is impacting aquatic health in the world-class trout waters through Durango.

Were lucky that our communitys Gold Medal trout fishery wasnt immediately damaged by the Gold King spill, said Ty Churchwell, TUs San Juan Mountains coordinator. But long-term, its unclear what the effects of the spill might be. Trout Unlimited wants to make sure the aquatic health of the riverand specifically, its bug lifeis closely monitored in coming months and years.

For several years prior to the Gold King spill, TU and Mountain Studies Institute (MSI) have sampled aquatic conditions in the river. Those efforts will now be stepped up to provide a baseline of information to gauge the long-term health of the river, according to TU. The sampling will focus on the Durango stretch of the Animas River and will occur in 2016 and 2017.

Why look at bugs? Scott Roberts, aquatic biologist with MSI, pointed out that aquatic macroinvertebrate orderssuch as mayflies, caddis and stonefliesprovide the foundation of the aquatic food chain, not just for trout but for a range of wildlife, from birds to mammals.

Benthic macroinvertebrates (BMI), or aquatic insects, are aquatic organisms that have no backbone, can be seen with the naked eye, and live on the bottom of a river or lake. BMI are an integral part of aquatic systems, serve as a major food source for fish, and provide a linkage between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.

Aquatic bugs are widely considered an excellent indicator of water quality, said Roberts. Thats because they live in the water column as well as river sediment. Were going to learn a lot by seeing which bugs are doing well and which arent.

Salmonflies (Pteronarcys), for instance, are present in the lower Animas watersheda good sign because they are considered sensitive to pollution.

Unlike a typical water quality sample that is only reflective of the exact moment the sample was collected, BMI communities reflect the water quality conditions that have occurred in the previous months and years.

The monitoring program, Roberts said, will assess the cumulative impacts of various stressors that could be impacting aquatic life in the Durango stretch of the Animas, including drought, elevated water temperature, sediment, excessive nutrients, and long-term exposure to mine-related contaminants.

Although the testing is not singularly focused on the impacts of the 2015 Gold King Mine spill, monitoring results will provide evidence as to whether exposure to the heavy metal plume caused sub-lethal impacts, such as reduced reproduction potential for bugs.

Churchwell noted that the recent action to establish a Superfund site near Silverton is a major step forward in addressing leaking abandoned mine sites in the Animas headwaters. People should understand that its not about one spill, he said. These mines have been seeping toxins into the headwaters of the Animas, day in and day out.

TU will closely follow the Superfund process, he said, to ensure that local citizens and sportsmen are represented and that the Animas high-value trout fishery is protected. TU has also been working with community stakeholders and lawmakers on draft Good Sam legislation in Congress to give groups more protection and flexibility to pursue certain types of mine cleanups.

We have to approach this leaching mine problem from several directions, said Churchwell. Its important to have good information and science-based data, which the monitoring will help provide.

He added, Its also important for Durango citizens to stay informed and stay involvedthis is our river, and its up to us to be its stewards. Churchwell said that TU members, local citizens and more than 100 local businesses have formed the San Juan Clean Water Coalition to organize community support for a healthy Animas.

The monitoring program is being funded by Trout Unlimited, MSI, the City of Durango, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Other partners include La Plata County and the Southwest Water Conservation District.

For more information about the San Juan Clean Water coalition, go to

# # #

Trout Unlimited is a non-profit organization with 147,000 members nationwide dedicated to conserving, protecting and restoring North Americas coldwater fisheries and their watersheds. Colorado Trout Unlimited has 24 chapters and more than 10,000 members in the state.