Officials discuss long-term monitoring plan

Hannah Grover

FARMINGTON — More than two months after a plume of heavy metals from the Gold King Mine north of Silverton, Colo., contaminated the Animas River, New Mexico officials have released a long-term monitoring plan.

Dennis McQuillan, chief scientist for the New Mexico Environment Department gives a presentation Tuesday at San Juan College in Farmington.

The draft plan, released today, is in a public comment period that will expire Friday, Nov. 20.

Along with the release of the monitoring plan, officials met with San Juan County residents tonight at the San Juan College Henderson Fine Arts Center. At the meeting, officials also talked about forming a Citizen Advisory Council. The council will consist of eight members, and will serve as a conduit of information between scientists and the public.

Dennis McQuillan, the chief scientist for the New Mexico Environment Department, said the state’s long-term monitoring plan is different from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plan released in September. Some examples of how the state and the EPA plans are different are the timeline and the monitoring of irrigation canals.

Kevin Lombard, an associate professor at New Mexico State University, has performed sediment samples in areas of the irrigation ditches that are believed to be uncontaminated. Lombard said after the ditches are drained for the winter, the students and scientists will return to the ditches and take more samples to determine if contamination occurred after the ditches were opened.

Members of the community listen Tuesday as state officials announce the release of a long-term plan for monitoring the effects of the Gold King Mine spill during a meeting at San Juan College in Farmington.

While meeting with the public, McQuillan and other officials also discussed the testing of private domestic wells following the spill.

McQuillan said the chemistry of the water in the wells is different than the composition of metals and minerals in the river and surface water.

There are more minerals found in the well water than in the river water. McQuillan said that can be due to various reasons, including minerals from the bedrock.

“We’ve had a lot of complaints even before Aug. 5 of black water and orange water,” he said.

There was one well that at first tested positive for high levels of lead, but that was later determined to be caused by plumbing rather than by the mine spill, McQuillan said.

One of the reasons the wells were not contaminated is that the groundwater currently drains into the river. But that could change if the water level in the Animas increases during the spring when the snow melts. Because of that, the plan calls for monitoring during the spring to check for sediments in the river contaminating the groundwater.

State officials listen to questions and take notes from the audience Tuesday during a meeting about the long-term effects of the Gold King Mine spill at San Juan College in Farmington.

“There’s a lot that we don’t understand about the system,” McQuillan admitted.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.