Final results of river pollutant study to be presented

Dan Schwartz The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The final results from a study of contaminants in the San Juan and Animas rivers will be presented at San Juan College on Thursday. A preliminary analysis of study samples found high levels of bacteria associated with human waste in both rivers.

"We're definitely going to have some more sure conclusions than before," said Melissa May, a San Juan Soil and Water Conservation District natural resource specialist.

The conservation district and the San Juan Watershed Group, both local agencies, are partners in the study that is seeking to identify land-use practices contributing to river contamination.

May and New Mexico State University professor Geoffrey Smith will present the study's 2013 and 2014 results at 6 p.m. in room 9008 in the Henderson Fine Arts building. Only the 2013 results have been reported.

As part of the two-year study, scientists analyzed samples collected from five sites along the San Juan and Animas rivers to test for bacteria — E. coli and Bacteroides — that indicate the presence of human and animal waste. They determined both bacteria are being introduced in San Juan County, and most samples tested positive for human bacteria.

Officials involved in the study have said leaking septic tanks and illegal waste dumping could be the sources of the bacteria. But New Mexico Environment Department spokesman Jim Winchester has said he knows of no evidence to support that conclusion.

"I'm looking forward to seeing what they have to say," San Juan County Commission Chairman Keith Johns said.

He hopes to attend the meeting, he said. He will take time to learn the results either way, he said.

Concerns about nitrate levels in the San Juan River have prompted discussions about installing sewer systems in Kirtland, he said. It would be great if all communities in the county were connected to sewer systems, he said.

"We need to have a clean river," he said.

But those connections will not be made in the near future, he said.

Farmington Mayor Tommy Roberts said a city representative will attend the meeting, if he doesn't. The study is an important one, he said, and understanding its results is also important.

"It's going to be very important to pinpoint sources of any contamination," he said.

The county's rivers are already polluted, according to EPA documents. The La Plata and Animas rivers and San Juan River down stream of Aztec exceed federal E. coli standards. Most of the La Plata River and all of the San Juan River exceed federal sedimentation standards. The La Plata River and half of the Animas River exceed federal nutrients standards. Half of the Animas River exceeds federal phosphorus standards. The San Juan River downstream of Farmington and half of the Animas River are too cloudy. And the entire Animas River is too warm.

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and Follow him @dtdschwartz on Twitter.