Mine spill, water quality will be discussed during conference

Legacy mines remain a concern for northwest New Mexico

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
  • Officials say the water in the rivers is safe, but needs monitoring due to sediments.
  • A panel discussion and summaries of technical talks will take place Wednesday afternoon.



Water from the Animas River mixes with the San Juan River on Aug. 8, 2015, shortly after the Gold King Mine spill, as seen in this file photo.

FARMINGTON — A conference beginning Monday will address historic contamination of the Animas and San Juan watersheds, heavy metals in the rivers and the effects of the Gold King Mine spill of August 2015.

The second annual Conference on Environmental Conditions of the Animas and San Juan Watersheds with Emphasis on Gold King Mine and other Mine Waste Issues will start Monday in Farmington.

The welcome reception will start at 5 p.m. Monday at the Henderson Fine Arts Center at San Juan College, 4601 College Blvd. Presentations will begin at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. Registration is required and can be completed at the Henderson Fine Arts Center the day of the conference. The conference will continue through Thursday.

While most of the conference requires registration, a free session from 1:15 to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday will allow the public to hear summaries of the conferences' technical talks. It also includes a panel discussion that will start at 2:45 p.m. Virginia McLemore from the Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources will moderate the discussion.

When reached by phone Friday, McLemore said the problem with mine waste contaminating the rivers will not be solved overnight.

"It's a legacy mine issue that's occurred since mining occurred," she said.

David Sypher, the city of Farmington public works director, said water quality in the Animas River is good this year and the reservoir helps protect the city's drinking water.

He said the main concern is the future of sediment in the Animas River.

During storms or runoff, the sediment can be picked up into the water. The city of Farmington has monitors that shut off the intakes from the river to the lake.

Paul Montoia, a hydrologist with the city of Farmington, said water samples show an increase in heavy metals in the river water when turbidity increases.

While the sediment remains a concern, Montoia said the river is safe for recreational uses as well as for irrigation. He said treated drinking water from the city is also safe to consume.

Montoia said there is a risk from the legacy mines in Colorado.

"These things happen every once in a while, not every day," he said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.