San Juan County residents express concerns over livestock, crops
FARMINGTON — San Juan County residents along the Animas River are concerned about their livestock and crops after 3 million gallons of toxic mining waste entered the river over the last week.
The New Mexico Environment Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are testing private domestic water supply wells in the Animas River Valley. The agencies will provide free water testing from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Friday at the San Juan County Sheriff's Office substation in Lee Acres, 21 County Road 5500 in Farmington.
About 250 residents on Monday visited the water testing site, officials said.
Debbie Taylor lives north of Aztec in a subdivision that operates off a well near the river. She said she has been using bottled and filtered water at home and traveling to her parents' house to bathe.
"It's a big inconvenience," Taylor said. "It's not just today, it's tomorrow, next week and next month. It's going to be something that affects us for months to come."
Officials have advised residents with wells in the floodplains of the Animas and San Juan rivers downstream of the confluence to have their water tested before using it for cooking, drinking or bathing. Water testing for residents in the Animas River Valley will be prioritized, said state Environment Department spokeswoman Allison Scott Majure. A list of wells within 1.5 miles of the Animas River can be found at nmedriverwatersafety.org.
"If your wellhead is level with the river, and (you) live in the Animas floodplain, it's a possibility you can be drawing settled sediments from this spill into your well," Majure said.
Majure said staff from the department will also visit homes along the Animas River to ask landowners to test their wells.
Two kinds of water testing are being offered. Field instrument testing is being used to determine the pH of the water and whether sediments and metals are present.
To get their water tested, residents need to bring 16 to 32 ounces of water in a clean container.
If a sample is positive, a state Environment Department or EPA employee will travel to the resident's well to collect a sterile sample for full laboratory analysis. That could take up to four days to process. In the event of a positive result, agencies will follow up with residents in six to eight weeks to see if there are residual effects of the sediment, Majure said.
Mike Hemmingson said on Monday that his family and livestock depend on the well water at his home along Ruins Road north of Aztec.
"It's a pain," Hemmingson said of not being able to use the well water. "It's not a good deal. I'm not set up to haul water."
He said he'll have to purchase equipment to haul water for his four horses and seven cows.
Tweeti Blancett of Blancett Ranches said she has closed two of her spillgates to stop the Animas River from entering her property, which is about a mile south of the New Mexico-Colorado border.
"Once that contamination goes into the ground, it's much harder to clean up," Blancett said.
She also expressed concern for the small farms along the Animas Rvier. Right now, she said, is a critical time for their crops.
Also on Monday, officials with the Northwestern New Mexico Chapter of the American Red Cross picked up two palettes of water donated from the Pepsi bottling plant in Aztec.
Amanda Romano-Kibel, community relations manager with the chapter, said officials delivered the water to McGee Park and San Juan County Public Health for local emergency responders to distribute.
Red Cross staff also distributed a palette of water to residents at Monday evening's public hearing at the Farmington Civic Center. Leftover water was dropped off with Farmington's Catholic Charities for distribution.
Officials have set up potable water stations in San Juan County for residents and RV and livestock owners.
• Bloomfield Fire Station, 911 N. First St. Open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. through Friday.
• Farmington Fire Station No. 6, 3101 W. Main St. Open from 6 to 7 p.m. through Friday.
• Sycamore Park Community Center, 1051 Sycamore St., Farmington. Open from 6 to 7 p.m. through Friday.
• Center Point Fire Station No. 1, 16 County Road 2755. Open 6 to 7 p.m. through Friday.
• Flora Vista Fire Station No. 1, 2 County Road 3275. Open 6 to 7 p.m. through Friday.
• Valley Fire Station No. 4, 4 County Road 6200. Open 6 to 7 p.m. through Friday.
Owners of RVs and livestock can fill their tanks at 201 W. Chaco St. in Aztec, next to City Hall and the Aztec Police Department. Residents need to bring their own containers and are asked to keep tanks to 100 gallons or less.