eNews June 2018

Improved Communication in Post-Gold King Mine Spill

by Robert Sabie, NM WRRI GIS Analyst


In August 2015, an accidental release of three million gallons of water from the Gold King Mine sent a plume of heavy-metal-laden water down Cement Creek near Silverton, Colorado into the Animas River. The plume eventually flowed into the San Juan River and subsequently into Lake Powell. The impacted communities criticized the initial communication efforts by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) as national media published pictures of the yellow plume. Since the spill, the various entities involved in the response have put a strong emphasis on scientific transparency and communicating monitoring results to the communities. The three annual conferences hosted by NM WRRI have been part of the continuing outreach campaign to bring the various research groups and impacted communities together. Much of the communication is done by national, state, and local agencies; community-led stakeholder groups; and teach-in events.

Because scientific information is often not easily conveyed, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and researchers from the University of Arizona (UA) developed two separate risk assessments. For example, the UA Gold King Mine Spill Diné Exposure Project used a symbolic traffic light approach for identifying safe (green), caution (yellow), and unsafe (red) risk levels for water use based on ongoing water, plant, and soil sampling efforts. In addition to participating in workshops, staff from US EPA and NMED maintain websites with links to information, data, and response efforts.

Stakeholder groups provide regulatory agencies monitoring data and community input on how to move forward to improve water quality in the Animas and San Juan watersheds. Groups such as the San Juan Watershed Group, San Juan Soil & Water Conservation District, and the Mountain Studies Institute all conduct research and monitor the watersheds. These groups make their findings available on their respective websites and at community meetings. The information gathered by the organizations is critical to inform regulating agencies during the planning and implementation of reclamation efforts. A good example is the Citizens Superfund Working Group, which was established to provide citizen-developed goals to the US EPA throughout the cleanup process of the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund Site (includes 26 mining-impacted locations within the mining district).

University researchers, along with agencies and stakeholder groups, continually host community teach-in events to present the most current results from the monitoring efforts. The events engage the general public and often generate detailed discussion of the remaining concerns. For example, at a recent teach-in event at the Navajo Shiprock Chapter House, community members asked researchers many questions about the risk of consuming crops grown within the watershed. A survey at the end of the meeting indicated participants found the teach-in very informative.

After the initial response efforts and the continued coordination of monitoring efforts, communication is becoming more effective, potentially resulting in an overall improved watershed as the abandoned mines along Cement Creek and the Animas are reclaimed.

eNews June 2018

Graduate Geology Student Conducts Research on Santa Fe River Water

by Margaret McKinney, University Relations Office, New Mexico Highlands University


A New Mexico Highlands geology graduate student will conduct a hydrogeology research study of the lower Santa Fe River that aims to measure the quantity and quality of the water as it flows into the Rio Grande.

Ryan Mann, a 41-year-old Albuquerque native and Santa Fe resident, received a grant from the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute to fund his study.

“The purpose of this study it to better define the hydrologic budget, the inflows and outflows of water, as well as the water chemistry,” Mann said. “In the La Cienga area of the lower Santa Fe River there’s been a shift in land use from agriculture toward more housing developments that rely entirely upon domestic wells. I’ll be looking at how this new land use is affecting the amount of river water and its quality.”

Mann said the study will help stakeholders in the La Cienga community such as farmers, ranchers, and homeowners better balance the demands on water in the lower Santa Fe River.

Mann will be collecting water samples at multiple monitoring sites during the summer and winter seasons to test the general chemistry of the water.

“The chemistry will give an indication of overall water quality. We’ll also be measuring streamflow, which tells us how much water is flowing through the river. These measurements will be done on a weekly basis for a year,” Mann said.

He said the hydrogeology project will become his thesis. Highlands geology professor Jennifer Lindline is his research adviser and thesis committee chair.

“I approached Dr. Lindline inquiring how I could conduct a hydrogeology study that would benefit society and she suggested this topic. The Santa Fe Water Division has needed a study like this for a number of years. I’m honored that I get to complete a project that will have an impact,” Mann said.

Lindline said that water resources issues facing New Mexico and the Southwest United States are profound.

“The Highlands Environmental Geology Program works to raise students’ awareness of surface and ground water resources and the depths of water supply issues,” Lindline said. “Ryan’s study is a good example of data collection and collaboration with community stakeholders, city offices, and state agencies to improve the collective hydrogeologic understanding of this important La Cienga area.”

Mann said that Lindline has been great to work with at both the graduate and undergraduate level.

“Dr. Lindline is extremely good at keeping students focused on the task at hand and giving the right amount of direction while allowing us to also be independent in academic endeavors. She’s very thorough and encouraging,” Mann said.

Mann said he wants to stay in New Mexico to pursue his professional career.

“I want to work with the State of New Mexico in the area of water resources management. My current research will give me a solid foundation for my aspirations. I’m grateful the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute is making it possible.”