Is Illegal Sewage Dumping Contaminating New Mexico’s Drinking Water?

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Animas River in Colorado
—Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Scientists in northwest New Mexico have been testing three rivers that serve thousands of residents’ drinking water supplies, and they’re alarmed by initial results that found human and animal waste that form E. coli bacteria in the water.

San Juan County officials have been aware of illegal septic dumping in area rivers, but they say solutions are expensive.  Those comments are reported in the Farmington Daily Times story that notes officials are trying to extend wastewater systems into unincorporated areas, though funding to pay for the work is scarce.  San Juan Watershed group coordinator David Tomko says his group’s tests will be completed early next year, and they could verify preliminary suspicions.

“Most of the development in San Juan County is in close proximity to the rivers, and there may be some illegal discharges of sewage or septic tank effluent into the rivers.”

Tomko adds animal waste is also a culprit.  But septic trucks that empty sewage from domestic septic tanks might also be dumping their loads into the San Juan, La Plata and Animas Rivers.  Those rivers flow into northern New Mexico from Colorado.  More than 60-percent of the state’s surface waters flow through San Juan County, according to Mike Stark, San Juan County’s chief operations officer.

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