Conference on Animas, San Juan watersheds opens next week at San Juan College

Event will be offered in hybrid format June 8-9

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • Registration for the conference is free.
  • The conference is open to anyone who takes an interest in the well-being of the region's two main sources of surface water.
  • Visit to register for the conference.

FARMINGTON — Water and land managers from around the region will gather at San Juan College next week for a two-day event devoted to analyzing issues related to local watersheds.

The "2022 Animas and San Juan Watersheds Conference: Collaborations, Perspectives and Science across the Watersheds" will take place Wednesday, June 8, and Thursday, June 9, in the Henderson Fine Arts Center on the San Juan College campus, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington.

The event will be held in a hybrid format of in-person and virtual attendance, and registration is free.

"This will certainly be a unique for us because it's the first truly hybrid event we've done," said Mark Sheely, the program coordinator for the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute, the organization that is presenting the conference.

Sheely said the event was started in the aftermath of the 2015 Gold King Mine Spill as a way of providing annual updates on how the disaster had impacted water quality in the Animas and San Juan rivers. The event was switched to a virtual format in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, then was cancelled last year, so this will be the first in-person version of the conference since 2019.

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A two-day conference focused on the health of the San Juan and Animas river watersheds will take place next week at San Juan College.

The conference is open to anyone who takes an interest in the well-being of the region's two main sources of surface water, he said.

"In the broadest sense, it's people who are invested in the health of the Animas and San Juan watersheds," he said, noting that many organizations took an increased interest in those waterways after the 2015 spill. "There were a lot of different agencies and partners involved in monitoring the response."

As time has gone by, Sheely's institute has "increased the aperture" for the conference to focus on a wider array of watershed issues, he said, including those related to agriculture, drought and climate change.

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"Each year, we've tried to strike a balance between issues related to the Gold King Mine spill but also a wide variety of other subjects," he said.

Some of the presentations at this year's event will focus on sediment chemistry in the two watersheds, but others will delve into the history of the Lee/Hammond Domestic Water System, the climate outlook for the San Juan Basin, and mapping the global-to-local, food-energy-water supply chains of the Four Corners.

The Animas River flows adjacent to the Among the Waters Trail in Farmington on March 25.

Sheely said the sessions on drought and climate change are likely to take on increased interest this year, given the effect wildfires are having on New Mexico in 2022 — and the potential of those fires for negatively impacting water quality in the future.

The alarming fall of water levels in reservoirs across the West also has become almost daily news this year, Sheely acknowledged, and that has led many people who don't normally concern themselves with water issues to take notice.

"Within the public sphere of news and public events, there are so many water-related stories," he said, noting how images this spring of the growing "bathtub ring" around Lake Mead and Lake Powell on the Colorado River have made it nearly impossible to ignore concerns about dwindling water supplies in the West.

"Our institute is based in Las Cruces, and in our neck of the woods, we're most concerned about Elephant Butte Reservoir," he said. "But even as you compare satellite images of the reservoir to its historic levels, you can see how it's fallen. So there is that increased sense of urgency within the last year or so."

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Issues related to the 2015 Gold King Mine spill, agriculture, drought and climate change will be addressed when the 2022 Animas and San Juan Watersheds Conference opens June 8 at San Juan College.

The conference itself lasts only two days, but there are several related activities slated to take place in the days surrounding it. A workshop on sustainable food, energy and water community outreach efforts will be held on June 7, while on June 10 there will tours of the Growing Forward Farm, the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry headquarters and the New Mexico State University Agricultural Science Center.

The list of activities will conclude on June 11 with a float trip down the Animas River that will highlight the fire mitigation project recently undertaken by the City of Farmington in Berg and Animas parks.

Visit to register for the conference.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription: