The Animas River may be open, but for one commercial fishing operation, that might not be enough to overcome the lasting negative effects of the 3 million gallons of pollution that flowed downriver last week.
Lonnie Malouff, who runs commercial fishing ponds, did everything in his power to keep his fish alive, but he is worried about how the pollution may damage tourism, property values and have other lasting impacts.
“I’m really worried about what it’s done to me,” Malouff said. “I don’t know the long-term effect of this.”
Malouff, who runs Little Fishes on La Posta Road (County Road 213) south of Durango, was awaiting guidance from subcontractors working for the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday afternoon.
He was hopeful they could tell him whether his fish are safe to eat. He doesn’t plan to reopen until his trophy browns and rainbows are safe for consumption.
The flow of pollution came at a tough time for the business owner who has had his seven ponds open to commercial fishing for only six weeks.
“We’re just really sunk. ... We had our life invested in this place,” Malouff said.
If he can reopen, he is not sure the interest from tourists will be there to support his business.
Before the pollution arrived, Malouff did shut down his river diversion to keep out the heavy metals.
Later, an EPA subcontractor helped him put in temporary sprinklers to keep the ponds aerated and the fish healthy.
His veterinarian, Patrick Goddard, also helped him monitor the temperature and pH levels in the water.
“The fish were in pretty good shape,” Goddard said.
Aside from the immediate business worries, Malouff has concerns about his property value and whether the EPA truly will compensate him for his losses.
“I cannot believe the EPA has done what they’ve done,” he said.