The diminishing Animas River

I just handed over to my editor the second draft of the manuscript for River of Lost Souls. We’ve still got a ways to go, but I feel like the heaviest lifting is behind me. Water quality is the book’s main focus, but water quantity in the Animas River is an issue, as well, and one that appears to be getting more pressing as time goes on.

Barring some radical shift in weather patterns, the 2017 water year looks to be a bountiful one for the San Juan Mountains and its rivers. Even now, in April, the river’s flows are shooting up to near record levels for this time of year. Come Memorial Day, boaters will be having a blast on the big, roiling water.

Yet the long-term picture isn’t so bright. According to USGS figures, both the mean and peak streamflows of the Animas River as it runs through Durango have dropped over the last century and continue on a downward trend. The 1911 flood — the harrowing details are in the upcoming book — was a doozy, with the river hitting 25,000 cubic feet per second in Durango. But I, for one, have always assumed that we’d see one of similar magnitude again. The peak streamflow trend, however, as seen in the graph below, makes a repeat seem less likely. More disturbing is the mean annual streamflow decline over time, indicating that there’s less and less water in the river for wildlife, irrigation, and recreation. One caveat: These figures are for just one monitoring station, and aren’t necessarily reflective of regional climatic trends.