GSA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, USA - 2016

Paper No. 8-6
Presentation Time: 9:25 AM


STELTZER, Heidi, Fort Lewis College, Biology Department, 1000 Rim Drive, Durango, CO 81301,

In August 2015, 3 million gallons of acid mine drainage flooded into Cement Creek, flowing into the Animas River and then the San Juan River. Downstream communities in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah watched in shock as the rivers on which they depend turned an unworldly orange color. Oxidized iron, better known as rust, is what caused the river’s vibrant orange color during the Gold King Mine spill and the burnt orange color during spring runoff. Then and now, local officials from San Juan Basin Health are faced with providing human health-related information regarding a historical problem that’s been decades in the making. In partnership with Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the US Geological Survey with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency, their state-of-the-art monitoring efforts will provide insight on river color, water chemistry and health risk. Through a partnership between San Juan Basin Health and Fort Lewis College, time-lapse photos that show river color and flow, taken from the same locations as the sensors and river water and sediment data, will be made into videos. The videos will enable us to understand the river in a new way. We will be able to see the river over the course of a day, each day of the year, in combination with the water chemistry data that can’t be seen when we stand at the river’s edge.

This innovative approach of visual and chemical monitoring may become the future of mountain river monitoring. We live in the West and depend on water for our well-being, as does the intricate river ecosystem. These monitoring efforts help us understand our water resources and will increase the dependability of our water supply system and the resilience of our communities from mountains to deserts across the West.