FARMINGTON, N.M. (AP) — Bacteria from human waste may be entering several northwestern New Mexico rivers from septic systems or illegal dumping, according to unexpected preliminary results from an environmental group’s testing.
The San Juan Watershed Group collected the samples in 2013 in the Animas, La Plata and San Juan rivers in Colorado and in New Mexico, the Daily Times reported (http://bit.ly/1lL93ld ).
Tests for E. coli in water in Colorado met state standards, but tests conducted at New Mexico sites in the Farmington area were positive for human bacteria found in feces.
Watershed group coordinator David Tomko said that indicates contamination is occurring downstream in New Mexico.
“It is startling. It is unexpected,” Tomko said. “But let’s see if there’s another explanation.”
The Animas and La Plata rivers are tributaries of the San Juan, which is a tributary of the Colorado River.
Farmington’s wastewater treatment plant is the only nearby location to legally discharge sewage, but Tomko said businesses could be dumping elsewhere.
Tomko said the study’s preliminary findings carry serious implications.
Seven San Juan County water systems pull drinking water from one of the three contaminated rivers, according to data compiled by Joe Martinez III, a manager for the drinking water bureau of the state Environment Department.
Mike Stark, operations officer for San Juan County, said the preliminary results “would be a concern for us.”
Stark said county officials are aware illegal septic dumping occurs in the county, and they also know some septic systems are aging and possibly leaking.
However, the county is large and solutions are expensive, he said.
In 2010, pipeline workers discovered 20 trailers abandoned in a canyon near the Animas River. The makeshift septic systems contaminated the soil, Stark said. The trailers were demolished and the land cleaned.
Many other septic systems have been illegally and precariously hooked into main sewage lines, he said.
County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter said one of the county’s biggest goals is getting residents off septic systems to reduce river pollution.
“These are some serious problems that we have,” he said.