On April 22, 2008 Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne honored the Animas River Stakeholders Group and their efforts to restore the Animas watershed with a coveted Cooperative Conservation Award. The Department of the Interior’s Cooperative Conservation Award recognizes conservation achievements resulting from the cooperation and participation of individual landowners, citizen groups, the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, and federal, state, local and/or tribal governments. The award recognized the Stakeholder Group’s outstanding contributions to improve water quality and turn back the ravages of hardrock mining in the Animas watershed. Due to the potential health hazard posed by runoff from mine tailings, the Environmental Protection Agency and state agencies had considered declaring the area a Superfund Site in the late 1990’s. However, the progress made by the stakeholders group in reducing pollution levels has convinced the agencies not to take formal action as long as the group continues to demonstrate significant results. By leveraging resources, the group has raised more than $35 million for remediation activities and more than $3 million of in-kind volunteer support. “The group completed approximately 50 mining remediations addressing drainage from mine entries and waste-site concerns,” the award noted. “Nearby communities have seen benefits from the group’s remediation activities, including an overall increase in water quality, the downstream establishment of two species of trout, and signs of resurgence in recreation-based tourism.”

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, elected officials, local citizens and interest groups, environmental organizations, and landowners, including federal and state 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 third Thursday 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 Upper Animas Watershed has a long history of extensive metal mining as an economic mainstay dating back to the 1880s. Headwaters contamination in the Silverton vicinity is from both mining activities and natural sources. In 1995 the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission adopted stricter standards for certain segments of the upper Animas with a delayed effective date at the Stakeholders’ request. The Commission then empowered the Animas River Stakeholders 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.

The Stakeholder process involves the extensive collection and analysis consolidation of the chemical, physical, and biological components necessary to assess the impacts of contamination on aquatic life and habitat throughout the Basin. Using this watershed approach, the Stakeholders will synthesize scientific findings with economic, social, and political consideration to influence future regulatory and land management decisions.