Gold King Mine Citizens’ Advisory Committee hears update on status of public water systems in Animas and San Juan watersheds

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FARMINGTON — The Gold King Mine spill last year did not impact the quality of drinking water for most San Juan County residents, according to the head of the state agency tasked with monitoring public water systems.

The Gold King Mine Citizens’ Advisory Committee heard an update on the quality of the drinking water during its meeting today at San Juan College.

Stephanie Stringer, chief of the New Mexico Environment Department's Drinking Water Bureau, gave a presentation to the committee on the status of public water systems in the Animas and San Juan watersheds.

The committee includes 11 volunteers who monitor efforts to document the long-term effects of the mine spill, which in August 2015 released more than 3 million gallons of towaste water with heavy metals into the Animas Rivers.

About 89,000 San Juan County residents' water systems were affected by the mine when intakes were closed to protect treatment plants and water reservoirs, according to Stringer's presentation. That figure does not include water systems on the Navajo Nation, which are not monitored by the state agency.

But in the year after the mine spill, the affected public water systems have remained in compliance with drinking water quality standards, Stringer said.

She said no metal contamination was found in any of the drinking water samples collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"With a couple of minor exceptions of failing infrastructure systems, the public water systems are doing their job, and the water is safe to drink," Stringer said after the meeting.

While not related to the mine spill, poor infrastructure maintenance is behind the failing treatment systems of the Morningstar and Harvest Gold water systems, Stringer said. Operated by the AV Water Co., the two systems serve nearly 7,000 residents in Crouch Mesa and areas outside Bloomfield. Those customers have been under a boil advisory since May 25 because of the failing treatment plants.

Drinking water from all other public water systems is safe for all uses, according to Stringer.

In her presentation, Stringer also detailed the bureau's efforts to monitor the quality of the drinking water systems after the mine spill. Stringer said some public water systems are developing plans in case an emergency again threatens drinking water.

"We are encouraging all the public water systems to develop source water protection plans to ensure they know what to do in an event such as this," Stringer said after the meeting.

The Gold King Mine Citizens’ Advisory Committee will meet next at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 26 at the Nenahnezad Chapter house in Fruitland.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.

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