EPA creates partnership to study long-term water quality

Thursday, April 26, 2018 11:08 PM
Peter Stevenson, on-scene coordinator for the EPA during the Gold King Mine spill, heads down a steep bank to the Animas River near the 32nd Street bridge to observe water testing.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced almost $3.6 million in funds and a partnership program to conduct long-term water quality monitoring for the San Juan River watershed.

The partnership consists of the EPA and seven states and tribes that adjoin the watershed, including Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, the Navajo Nation, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe. Together, the entities will sample and assess the water quality of the watershed, including the San Juan River, the Animas River and Lake Powell, according to one of three news releases issued Thursday by the EPA.

The EPA provided $3.6 million in grants, contracts and other financial vehicles to support specific monitoring and assessment activities identified by the partners, including:

Coordinating and sharing data to help inform watershed decision-making.Conducting water quality, sediment and biological monitoring to understand watershed conditions and target additional monitoring.Implementing research activities to inform local stakeholders on watershed decision-making.Developing and launching a website to communicate results to the public about the condition of the watershed.“The San Juan Watershed Monitoring Partnership will bring together states and tribes to collect and share information vital to the protection of the watershed and important economic activities in the region,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in the release. “This partnership showcases the agency’s cooperative federalism approach and will improve environmental outcomes for the people and livestock that depend on these water resources.”

Part of the data collection includes the placement and maintenance of electronic probes throughout the watershed to provide real-time data. The data will be used by states, tribes and local governments to inform watershed-related decision-making.

Additional activities include core sampling in Lake Powell to understand historical and ongoing metal deposits in the lake and assessing exposure risks of using the San Juan and Animas rivers for recreation, agricultural irrigation, livestock watering and cultural purposes.

Of the $3.6 million provided for the collaborative program, more than $1.5 million will go to Colorado, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and Utah for watershed monitoring. More specifically:

The Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment was awarded $227,754 to work with San Juan Basin Public Health to collect water quality samples for metals, as well as coliform bacteria, from private wells adjacent to the Animas River and other tributaries within the Upper Animas River sub-basin. The project is intended to inform homeowners of the quality of their drinking water and if additional measures are needed to protect their water sources.The Southern Ute Indian Tribe – in collaboration with the Ute Mountain Ute and the Northern Ute tribes – was awarded $380,000 to identify the extent of cultural uses of waters in the Animas River to understand how contaminants may affect tribal uses.“The Ute people have a longstanding history with the Bonita Peak Mining District region and still visit the region for cultural practices today,” the release says. “This study will highlight and translate the oral tradition of the Ute people to provide a better understanding of any potential toxicological risks as a result of coming into contact with plants of interest.”

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality was awarded $920,000 to implement a sediment coring study in the San Juan River and Colorado River deltas of Lake Powell. The sediment coring study will be implemented over a three-year period to better understand the metals deposition and potential risks associated with low lake levels.The Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency will receive $366,000 to ensure tribal water quality standards are protective of livestock and crop irrigation water, according to an EPA news release.“The Gold King Mine spill has helped identify areas in water monitoring that the Navajo Nation needs to improve,” Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, said in the release. “We need a long-term water monitoring program. We appreciate the U.S. EPA for providing resources to address the water quality issues the nation faces.”Congress authorized appropriations of $4 million annually in 2017 through 2021 as part of the 2016 Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act to develop a long-term water-quality monitoring program for the San Juan