FARMINGTON Two hundred people involved in water-quality issues from Silverton to Northern New Mexico described projects, compared notes and asked questions of others Tuesday.
The occasion was the Four Corners River Health Workshop sponsored by the New Mexico Environment Department in collaboration with the Animas Watershed Partnership and the San Juan Soil & Water Conservation District.
The Animas River watershed is a resource shared by state and tribal jurisdictions, three counties, three cities and it falls under the jurisdiction of three Environmental Protection Agency districts, Ann Oliver, coordinator of the Animas Watershed Partnership, said in her state of the waters introduction.
The Animas River is coming under pressure, Oliver said. The demand of the growing population in La Plata County (16.8 percent) and San Juan County, N.M., (14.3 percent) is being felt, she said.
There are 35 community water systems and 22 permitted dischargers, including 16 sewerages, Oliver said. It also provides room and board for 25 of the birds, frogs, fish and mammals identified by states as species of greatest conservation concern and supports at least 10 fishing and boating recreation businesses.
The Animas knits everything together, Oliver said.
Additional pressure on the river is the presence of nutrients, most commonly nitrogen and phosphorus, which in excess cause algae blooms that steal oxygen needed by other fish and aquatic life.
Water-treatment plants and fertilizer from agriculture are major sources of nutrients, she said.
But no reaches of the Animas are impaired by nutrients, Oliver said.
The Animas Watershed Partnership is working with others to reduce nutrients, sediment and microbial loads in the Florida River, a tributary to the Animas, Oliver said. It also is trying to find the source of sediment in Lightner Creek and is working with the San Juan Watershed Group to identify microbial sources.
Peter Butler, chairman of the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission and a member of the Animas River Stakeholders Group, said new nutrient standards will affect Front Range dischargers long before smaller water-treatment plants such as Durango must upgrade equipment to meet standards.
The cost of upgrades is tremendous, he said during a meeting break.
Marcie Demmy Bidwell, director of the Mountain Studies Institute, said political and economic aspects of meeting nutrient standards will delay implementation.
Butler later spoke of the effects from hard-rock mining around Silverton and the 18-year effort of the stakeholders group to mitigate the effects.
Pete Nylander from the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Steve Austin from the Navajo Nation, and Colin Larrick from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe described tribal efforts to protect water quality.
Other speakers addressed farming and grazing practices to protect water, stormwater management, stream restoration and protection against and eradication of invasive species such as Russian olive.