FARMINGTON >> The New Mexico Environment Department announced Monday the approval of $287,540 to study and deal with pollutants in the Animas River in San Juan County.
The money will fund the Lower Animas Watershed Based Plan Project, which aims to create a formal watershed plan for the section of the Animas in New Mexico, said James Hogan, Environment Department surface water quality bureau chief.
The plan, if approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, would make the Animas more likely to receive funding for specific projects to address pollutants, Hogan said. No official watershed plan currently exists for the river, he said.
The money for the watershed project comes from New Mexico Severance Tax Bond Capital Outlay Funds, according to the Environment Department. Companies pay severance taxes when they extract oil, gas and other natural resources from state lands.
Creating the formal plan will include testing the river to gather more data and identifying specific land-use practices that could improve pollution levels, said Neal Shaeffer, an Environment Department staff scientist.
The Animas River is 126 miles long. The river begins in Silverton and flows into San Juan County before it pours into the San Juan River in Farmington. It is the primary source of drinking water in San Juan County.
The river is on a list of impaired rivers because it doesn't meet state and federal standards for E. coli, phosphorus, sedimentation, water temperature and turbidity levels. The list was created as part of the Clean Water Act.
Hogan said E. coli is potentially harmful to anyone who comes into physical contact with the river, and phosphorus and other minerals can make treating the water more expensive and can make it dangerous to drink. Temperature and turbidity have effects on river life.
Hogan said much of the money from the grant will go to the San Juan Soil and Water Conservation District and the San Juan Watershed Group, which are doing studies to measure and track pollutants in the Animas River.
"People have been concerned about the water quality on the Animas River for over 10 years, but what's been missing is a systematic plan to identify and fix its problems," Melissa May, of the soil and water district, said in a prepared statement. "This funding allows just that."
Hogan said officials are hoping the project will be finished in about a year and half.
Ryan Boetel covers crime for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel on Twitter.