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Watching the water

FLC professor presents at national conference in Denver

Dr. Heidi Steltzer
Dr. Heidi Steltzer
Dr. Ryan Smith
Dr. Ryan Smith

Don’t judge a river by its color. That’s the message behind the presentation contributed to by Fort Lewis College Professors Dr. Heidi Steltzer and Dr. Ryan Smith, their students, and representatives from the San Juan Basin Health Department. Dr. Steltzer and Liane Jollon from San Juan Basin Health will offer the presentation at the Geological Society of America's Annual Meeting & Exposition in Denver from September 25-28.

When the Animas River turned a muddy golden color after the Gold King Mine Spill in August 2015, there was confusion, concern and outrage. Many people associated a change in water color with a health hazard, but that is not always the case.

Since the spill, organizations across the Four Corners, including Fort Lewis College, have been stepping up efforts to study and monitor the Animas and other area water sources. FLC installed a sonde, a water quality monitoring device, in the river to go along with two US Geological Survey sondes. The FLC sonde, along with automated water sampling equipment and time lapse cameras, is allowing FLC professors and students to more closely monitor the river conditions.

"River color does not necessarily mean hazard, but it does correspond with outrage/public concern/emotion,” says Dr. Steltzer. This emotion, she adds, makes effective communication more difficult.

The goal is that, if and when a future event impacts our water, the College will have the equipment in place to provide data to the public to dispel rumors and ease fears.

For more information on the Geological Society of America's Annual Meeting & Exposition, visit http://community.geosociety.org/gsa2016.


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