Water Quality crew takes river health seriously

Kirk Lashmett, senior water quality specialist for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s Water Quality Program, collects samples from the Animas River north of the Florida River confluence for laboratory testing.
Senior Water Quality Specialist Pete Nylander makes a final inspection of the field equipment before descending the Animas river.
Data from an underwater probe, known as a sonde, is synced to a portable device and catalogued.
Low water flow and relatively clear water are indicative of a short runoff season for the Animas River, corresponding directly to a weak snowpack and regional drought trends.
Kirk Lashmett retrieves an underwater probe, called a sonde, which compiles water-quality data on a half-hour basis around the clock. The data is then synced to a portable device for analysis of longterm trends.
Working together, senior water quality specialists Pete Nylander and Kirk Lashmett make periodic trips down the Animas River to monitor water quality.
Pete Nylander makes notations with each water sample, recording time of day and corresponding GPS coordinates.
The muddied water of the Florida mixes into the Animas at the rivers’ confluence. The Florida is relied on heavily by agricultural needs south of Lemon Reservoir and across much of the Southern Ute Reservation.
Catamaran style rafts help water quality specialist reach difficult sections of the river, especially during times of low water flow.
Carefully labeled water samples are taken at points along the Animas River from northern Durango to the southernmost edge of the reservation.
Navigating a short section of rapids, Pete Nylander travels south toward the New Mexico state line, passing under a historic railroad bridge spanning the Animas River. The Animas, known as the “river of lost souls,” has a reputation for its many dangers to those travelling the rocky watercourse.
­
­
Kirk Lashmett, senior water quality specialist for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s Water Quality Program, collects samples from the Animas River north of the Florida River confluence for laboratory testing.
Senior Water Quality Specialist Pete Nylander makes a final inspection of the field equipment before descending the Animas River.
Data from an underwater probe, known as a sonde, is synced to a portable device and catalogued.
Low water flow and relatively clear water are indicative of a short runoff season for the Animas River, corresponding directly to a weak snowpack and regional drought trends.
Kirk Lashmett retrieves an underwater probe, called a sonde, which compiles water-quality data on a half-hour basis around the clock. The data is then synced to a portable device for analysis of longterm trends.
Working together, senior water quality specialists Pete Nylander and Kirk Lashmett make periodic trips down the Animas River to monitor water quality.
Pete Nylander makes notations with each water sample, recording time of day and corresponding GPS coordinates.
The muddied water of the Florida mixes into the Animas at the rivers’ confluence. The Florida is relied on heavily by agricultural needs south of Lemon Reservoir and across much of the Southern Ute Reservation.
Catamaran style rafts help water quality specialist reach difficult sections of the river, especially during times of low water flow.
Carefully labeled water samples are taken at points along the Animas River from northern Durango to the southernmost edge of the reservation.
Navigating a short section of rapids, Pete Nylander travels south toward the New Mexico state line, passing under a historic railroad bridge spanning the Animas River. The Animas, known as the “river of lost souls,” has a reputation for its many dangers to those travelling the rocky watercourse.
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Jeremy Wade Shockley | The Southern Ute Drum
Thumbnail image of Kirk Lashmett, senior water quality specialist for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s Water Quality Program, collects samples from the Animas River north of the Florida River confluence for laboratory testing.
Thumbnail image of Senior Water Quality Specialist Pete Nylander makes a final inspection of the field equipment before descending the Animas river.
Thumbnail image of Data from an underwater probe, known as a sonde, is synced to a portable device and catalogued.
Thumbnail image of Low water flow and relatively clear water are indicative of a short runoff season for the Animas River, corresponding directly to a weak snowpack and regional drought trends.
Thumbnail image of Kirk Lashmett retrieves an underwater probe, called a sonde, which compiles water-quality data on a half-hour basis around the clock. The data is then synced to a portable device for analysis of longterm trends.
Thumbnail image of Working together, senior water quality specialists Pete Nylander and Kirk Lashmett make periodic trips down the Animas River to monitor water quality.
Thumbnail image of Pete Nylander makes notations with each water sample, recording time of day and corresponding GPS coordinates.
Thumbnail image of The muddied water of the Florida mixes into the Animas at the rivers’ confluence. The Florida is relied on heavily by agricultural needs south of Lemon Reservoir and across much of the Southern Ute Reservation.
Thumbnail image of Catamaran style rafts help water quality specialist reach difficult sections of the river, especially during times of low water flow.
Thumbnail image of Carefully labeled water samples are taken at points along the Animas River from northern Durango to the southernmost edge of the reservation.
Thumbnail image of Navigating a short section of rapids, Pete Nylander travels south toward the New Mexico state line, passing under a historic railroad bridge spanning the Animas River. The Animas, known as the “river of lost souls,” has a reputation for its many dangers to those travelling the rocky watercourse.
­
­

Though its methods have grown more technologically advanced, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe still keeps watch over local waters as it has for centuries.

After all, for all the comforts of civilization available today, the tribe and its members still largely rely on those waters for their livelihood. In the American West, where scarcity means water is as good as gold — especially during drought years, as have been the norm lately — ensuring the rivers and streams remain healthy is a top priority.

Enter the Southern Ute Water Quality Program. Part of Environmental Programs, a division of the tribe’s Justice & Regulatory Department, Water Quality is tasked with monitoring waters on the reservation for overall health — a complex balancing game that must take into account what’s right for local plant life and wildlife, including fish, but also for humans and the inevitable development that their presence brings.

To that end, senior water quality specialists Kirk Lashmett and Pete Nylander set off down the Animas River on catarafts June 18 and 19 — tens of thousands of dollars of specialized equipment and two Drum staffers in tow — to collect water samples that will be analyzed for a variety of factors.

Surrounded by recreational rafters bouncing around and off of rocks during the first leg of the trip — the crew entered the river at Memorial Park in northern Durango, on 29th Street — Lashmett and Nylander by contrast rowed swiftly, with a sense of purpose. Lashmett, a former professional raft guide who led the trip, seemed to know the river’s tributaries and inlets as one might know the veins on the back of their hand.

“Junction Creek is coming up,” he would say. And later: “Lightner Creek is just up ahead.”

At each confluence, the crew would pull ashore to measure both the tributary itself and the Animas some distance downstream, capturing the relative characteristics of each source and how they impact the health of the river as a whole.

Measurements were taken in two parts. Lashmett, whose job is to monitor “point sources” of water pollution — those sources large enough to be differentiated from others, such as wastewater treatment plants and fish hatcheries — labeled and filled with water a pair of sample bottles. The bottles, one of which included sulfuric acid as a preservative and the other of which contained only a “raw” sample, are sent to a lab in Steamboat Springs, Colo., for analysis.

When results come back in a couple weeks, Lashmett said, they’ll include information about the levels of the nutrients phosphorus and nitrogen in the water. This is of particular concern to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, who awarded the tribe a grant in 2011 for such research.

While nutrients to a certain extent are obviously good, abnormally high levels can threaten aquatic life, Lashmett said. For example, they can lead to excess algae growth, affecting a cycle of high and low dissolved oxygen levels in the water that, at the extreme, can kill fish.

While Lashmett collected samples, Nylander produced a very expensive-looking (and indeed, very expensive) piece of equipment roughly the size and shape of a tennis ball canister called a sonde. Attached by a length of wire on one end to a display in Nylander’s hand, the sonde was carefully lowered into the water at each stop. Roughly 30 seconds later, the display would light up with a host of useful technical information — water temperature, salinity, turbidity (clarity), dissolved oxygen levels and more.

These measurements were stored in the device for import to a computer later, said Nylander, who oversees “non-point sources” of water pollution — those that are individually too small to isolate as contributors, such as agricultural fields and degraded stream banks and riparian areas.

Also housed in cages and chained to the riverbank in inconspicuous places along the Animas are five more sondes. These take measurements every half-hour even when staffers are not present. Lashmett said he likes to visit them every two weeks to download data. A sixth resides in the Pine River.

All this data collection helps the Water Quality Program paint a comprehensive picture of river health in the area, creating a foundation to inform future decisions on water issues.

Like it? Share it!

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail