The mission of the Animas River Stakeholders Group (ARSG) is to improve water quality and habitats in the Animas River through a collaborative process designed to encourage participation from all interested parties. Participants include mining companies, environmental organizations, land owners, local governmental entities, and state and federal regulatory and land management agencies. This innovative process holds open meetings allowing all parties to participate at a level suited to their interest and need. The group usually meets on the fourth Tuesday of every month in Silverton, Colorado. Working group meetings, handling specific issues to put before the full group, normally meet immediately preceding the monthly meeting. The group operates through informal consensus.
The Upper Animas Watershed has a long history of extensive metal mining as an economic mainstay dating back to the 1870’s. There are hundreds of abandoned and inactive mine sites in the region. Major mining operations ended in 1991. Part of the mining legacy is metal loading to alpine streams and creeks in addition to the natural metal loading already occurring in this mineralized area.
ARSG began in 1994 as a process to determine appropriate water quality standards for the Upper Animas River Basin. In 1995, the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission adopted strict, perhaps unachievable water quality standards for certain segments of the Upper Animas, but delayed the effective date to allow ARSG to come up with a plan to improve water quality. The commission tasked ARSG to locate and evaluate sources of metals contamination, determine potential improvement and prioritize sites for remediation in order to recommend achievable water quality standards and use classifications.
In addition, U.S. EPA was contemplating a Superfund designation of whole Upper Basin. Most of the Stakeholders thought that such a designation would lead to lots of litigation, reduced property values, distrust, and resources going to attorneys and consultants as opposed to on the ground projects that might improve water quality.
The Stakeholders process involves the extensive collection, consolidation, and analysis of chemical, physical and biological components necessary to assess the impacts of contamination on aquatic life and habitat throughout the basin. Using a watershed approach, ARSG has developed a remediation plan, recommended feasible water quality standards (which were adopted in 2001) and implemented remediation projects throughout the Upper Animas River Basin.
The group encourages participation from all parties and comments are always welcome. All meetings are open to the public and general meetings are held on a monthly basis in Silverton. An agenda is drawn up and generally includes updates on the status of different issues of interest to the group and reports from the working groups, which handle the more technical matters. New participants generally have some questions or grievances. We hope to be able to address them. The group has a list of available information (Index of Information) and has also sponsored an educational Animas River Library Series, which is on video. As it takes some time to understand the issues, there seems to be an adjustment period to incorporate an individual into the group. People experience a level of comfort and camaraderie when they realize their viewpoint will be heard and respectfully considered. We appreciate the input and have a wealth of written materials we can provide to help bring newcomers up to speed. We hope as a water consumer, landowner, mine operator, or just an interested citizen you will join us in this process!