By Mark Sheely, NM WRRI Program Coordinator
Midway into preparations for the fifth annual conference on the Animas and San Juan Watersheds, the coronavirus pandemic threw the conference into jeopardy. Rather than postpone or cancel the event, the planning committee decided to attempt something new for NM WRRI: a webinar conference spanning the week of June 15-19, 2020. While attendees would miss the opportunity to gather at San Juan College and mingle face-to-face, the Animas and San Juan Watersheds Week webinar series would ultimately allow nearly 300 people to participate and learn about the research and monitoring efforts taking place within these watersheds.
Building on last year’s theme, this year’s conference not only focused on the continued—largely social—impacts of the 2015 Gold King Mine Spill, but broadened its scope to include a wide variety of topics related to the overall health of the watershed. The webinar series began on Monday, June 15 with a virtual field trip of both the New Mexico State University’s Agricultural Science Center at Farmington and Navajo Agricultural Products Industry, one of the largest farms in the United States. Tuesday’s commencement of conference presentations focused on watershed planning and management. Anthony Edwards, a member of the Bonita Peak Mining District Community Advisory Group, moderated a panel examining the benefits of a multijurisdictional watershed coalition that would allow members of the states, tribes, and other jurisdictions to keep their autonomy but work in alliance to identify important issues within the watershed. Wednesday treated participants to presentations on different water quality issues within the watershed including an examination of sediment cores taken from Farmington Lake and Aztec Drinking Reservoir #1, and a summary of multiyear monitoring of dissolved lead concentrations in the Animas River from Aztec, New Mexico to the Colorado state border. The conference webinar concluded on Thursday with presentations focusing on the connection between the watersheds and agricultural activity and the impacts of oil and gas production on the water supply within the San Juan Basin.
A post-conference community teach-in was hosted online on Friday, June 19 in collaboration with the Gold King Mine Spill Diné Exposure Project. The teach-in included presentations on the continued social impacts of the spill on Navajo Nation from Karletta Chief, Carmenlita Chief, and Shiprock Chapter President Duane “Chili” Yazzie, as well as flash talk presentations from conference presenters with Navajo translation provided.
Framing both the beginning and end of this webinar series was a video produced by conference planning members specifically for the conference entitled, The River Connects Us All, featuring a montage of images of the Animas and San Juan Rivers from Silverton, Colorado to Lake Powell, Utah. Throughout the video the narrator reminds viewers that the natural features of this watershed, combined with the many ways local communities rely on the river, create a set of unique challenges that both connect us, and require us to proactively manage the watersheds for the health of all its residents. Conference presentations can be viewed here, and videos of all five days of the webinar series are available here.