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Stakeholder Process

The Animas River Stakeholders Group (ARSG) was formed in 1994 in response to the Colorado Water Quality Control Division’s (WQCD) reevaluation and upgrading of standards and classifications for segments of the Animas River Basin. The WQCD was keen to encourage grassroots, local participation and expertise. The water quality problem was identified as being related to historic mining and natural mineralization in the area, but there are also many unknown factors. The Animas River is a very complex and dynamic ecosystem which takes time and research to understand.

The stakeholder process, although slow and time consuming, is proving an effective means of environmental problem solving. A driving force is the undesirable alternative of costly enforcement and regulatory intervention either under the Clean Water Act or under “Superfund”. In keeping with community-based problem solving, the group has chosen minimal internal structure. There is no hierarchy; only unspoken rules of respect and the services of a coordinator to keep the effort focused. Decisions are made by consensus, not by vote, and a feeling of teamwork prevails. Local people are taking responsibility for their community and their environment. One of the primary purposes of the stakeholders group is to serve as a clearinghouse for information about the Animas River watershed for the many interested groups and individuals who are contributing time and knowledge to the effort. The group has, however, been criticized for a preponderance of government agency involvement. The Federal Land Agencies are on board for good reason as 83% of the land in San Juan County is public land, which they are responsible for managing. Due to the scientific complexity of the contamination, the stakeholder’s effort has been able to utilize the expertise and funding from a number of agencies for a variety of projects. It should also be noted that the majority of these agency people involved also live in the area and care about the problem.