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Reconnaissance-level application of physical habitat simulation in the evaluation of physical habitat limits in the Animas Basin, Colorado

January 1, 2003

The Animas River is in southwestern Colorado and flows mostly to the south to join the San Juan River at Farmington, New Mexico (Figure 1). The Upper Animas River watershed is in San Juan County, Colorado and is located in the San Juan Mountains. The lower river is in the Colorado Plateau country. The winters are cold with considerable snowfall and little snowmelt in the mountains in the upper part of the basin. The lower basin has less snow but the winters are still cold. The streamflows during the winter are low and reasonably stable.

The native trout in the Animas Basin is the cutthroat trout. Few native trout remain and the trout found in the upper watershed are brook trout with rainbow and brown trout in the lower river. There is considerable metal contamination in the upper basin near Silverton but a brook trout fishery does exist in the Animas River from just above Howardsville to where the Animas joins Cement Creek in Silverton.

There are two principle objectives of the habitat studies in the Animas Basin: (1) to improve understanding of the fate of sediment from mining operations from the view point of physical habitat impacts, and (2) to determine if reconnaissance level physical habitat studies can be useful in understanding the impacts of mining on the aquatic ecosystem.

Part of the project was to apply the Physical Habitat Simulation System (PHABSIM) to selected locations in the Upper Animas River Basin, Colorado in order to demonstrate the importance of physical habitat in evaluating the efficacy of mined land remediation activities. Physical habitat analysis included the use of sedimentation variables in physical habitat simulations. A map of the Upper Animas Basin is presented in Figure 2.

The project involves collecting data for the following locations: Animas River above Magee Creek; Animas River above Howardsville; Animas River below Howardsville; Animas River above Silverton at Hillsdale Cemetery; Animas River at Silverton; Cement Creek above Silverton; Cement Creek at Silverton; Mineral Creek at Powerline above Silverton; Mineral Creek at Campground; South Mineral Creek at Overflow Campground; Mineral Creek above Bear Creek; Mineral Creek at Silverton; Animas River below Silverton; and Animas River at Elk Park.

Bed material samples were collected at each site. These included samples of the armour, the substrate, and sand and fines deposited on the surface. At selected sites the stream morphology was measured. These measurements included one to three cross sections, stream discharge, and water surface elevations. The data are located in the files of the Fort Collins Science Center.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2003
Title Reconnaissance-level application of physical habitat simulation in the evaluation of physical habitat limits in the Animas Basin, Colorado
DOI 10.3133/ofr2003222
Authors Robert T. Milhous
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2003-222
Index ID ofr2003222
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center