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On June 29, 2015, the San Juan Watershed Group met at the Civic Center in Farmington.
Attendees were: David Tomko (SJWG), Conn Fraser (SJWG), Melissa May (SJSWCD), Emma
Deyo (SJSWCD), Neal Schaeffer (NMED SWQB), Ed Bullock (Citizen), Jim Jones (NMED –
Farmington Field Office), Dan Schwartz (Farmington Daily Times), Ann Oliver (AWP), Jeanette
Joe (NAPI O&M), Pete Nylander (Southern Ute Indian Tribe – Section 319 Program), Rachel
Hoffman (AWP), Stephany Zabel (NMED – Farmington Field Office), Ruben Salcido (City of
Farmington Public Works Department), Don Moats (DJ’s Backhoe), Edward Epp (BHP Billiton),
Blaine Watson (NM Office of State Engineer), Alexa Rogals (Daily Times), Christopher Chavez
(NMED – Farmington Field Office), Bonnie Hopkins (San Juan County Cooperative Extension
Service), Don Becker (San Juan County Homebuilders Association), and Larry Hathaway (San
Juan County) – 22 Total.
David Tomko, SJWG Coordinator, opened the meeting by introducing the guest speakers and
having audience members introduce themselves. This is the third and final meeting in a series of
themed meetings that will identify possible sources of the fecal contamination in the rivers
identified by the two year Microbial Source Tracking study. The first two meetings focused on
human source bacteria that can come from liquid waste disposal systems, commonly referred to
as septic systems, septage dumping and wastewater treatment plants that discharge treated
wastewater directly to the rivers. Treatment of river water by treatment plants to make it safe to
drink was also discussed. This meeting will focus on animal sources of bacteria.
The MST study identified that bacteria from ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats, deer and elk) was as
significant as the human source bacteria in the rivers. The presence of human source bacteria was
unexpected and the sources can be addressed through regulatory action by the NMED and EPA.
Animals have been the most common sources in other studies and come from agricultural
practices related to livestock and from wildlife. The agricultural practices associated with
livestock sources of bacteria commonly occur and are legal and will remain legal. Therefor the
approach to reducing these sources is the use of Best Management Practices (BMPs) by willing
land owners, farmers and ranchers.
Ann Oliver – Coordinator, Animas Watershed Partnership
Ann Oliver provided a presentation on the Animas and Florida River Water Quality and Aquatic
Habitat Improvement Project. The group was formed as a result of observing significant algal
growth in the Animas River above Durango in 2002 which created the Animas River Nutrients
Workgroup within the San Juan Watershed Group. The mission of the Animas Watershed
Partnership is to protect and improve the quality of water resources to benefit the Animas River,
now and in the future. AWP is concerned about the Animas River from Bakers Bridge upstream
of Durango to the confluence of the San Juan River in Farmington. It works across the
boundaries of Colorado, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and New Mexico to achieve its goals.
Ann explained the composition of the Steering Committee and the meeting schedule (monthly
Steering Committee meetings and quarterly Partnership meetings. The public is invited to all of
the meetings. The Animas River Watershed Based Plan was completed in 2011 which addresses
nutrient sources along the length of the river.
The Water Quality and Aquatic Habitat Improvement Project was funded by the Colorado NonPoint Source (Section 319) Program ($159,245) and Colorado Healthy Rivers Fund ($15,000).
The total cost of the project to date is $280,573 which includes in-kind contributions from project
The project included the construction of fencing along 0.8 miles of the Florida River to create
about 15 acres of riparian buffer to permit revegetation and bank stabilization and the installation
of gated irrigation pipe on 25 acres to change from flood irrigation to the more efficient gated
pipe irrigation. Phase 2 of the project will fence 0.3 miles of river to create 3 acres of riparian
These changes should result in a number of benefits to stream-side areas, aquatic habitat and
water quality. The riparian buffers allow the growth of more woody and herbaceous plants that in
turn provide more stream shading, more bank stabilization, less surface runoff, less erosion and
better wildlife habitat. The plant growth lowers water temperature, creates a narrower and deeper
channel with deeper pools, less embedded cobbles, more overhanging banks, more
macroinvertebrates and less algae. Water quality improvements include higher dissolved oxygen
and reductions in fine sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus loading and E. coli bacteria.
The benefits will be measures using both pre-project and post-project monitoring for a number of
water quality measurements and photo-documentation. The pre-project monitoring has been
completed and the results from the post-project monitoring will be compared to measure the
changes that occur over time. The PowerPoint presentation is available at the SJWG website at
Pete Nylander – Non-Point Source Specialist, Southern Ute Indian Tribe – Agricultural
BMPs in the SUIT area
Pete Nylander provided an overview of the implementation of agricultural best management
practices on the Southern Ute Reservation in Colorado. The water quality issues of concern are
related to agricultural impacts, land disturbance impacts and degraded stream and eroding stream
banks. The Los Pinos River watershed was initially identified as the highest priority and a 2007
Draft Assessment Report identified other watersheds such as Spring Creek and the Animas River
watershed as priorities.
The Section 319 Cost Share Program began in 2004 and is funded through CWA §319
competitive funds with an annual budget around $30,000. The program is designed to assist local
land managers with: irrigation improvement; riparian fencing; field buffers/filter strips; and offstream watering sources. To date the program has equipped 31 projects with 28 land managers
and currently 27 active participants. The program serves both tribal and non-tribal land managers
with 17 tribal member land managers 10 non-native land managers.
The Cost Share Program includes 95% costs covered by program with a 5% required match
(actual or in-kind) from the land manager. It’s similar to the NRCS EQIP program and requires
participants to enter in 5 year conservation agreements with the equipment life estimated to be 15
years. Gated pipe is the most supplied equipment in the program. Partners include several other
SUIT agencies.
Pete described the process involved in reporting the benefits and load reductions for BMP
projects to EPA using an EPA model. The model is STEPL (Spreadsheet Tool for the Estimation
of Pollutant Load) and is commonly used to document reductions in nutrients (nitrogen and
phosphorus) and sediment. Lessons learned from the program are: quantification of agricultural
improvement projects is difficult and not cut and dry; it is important to understand the limitations
of models used to estimate reductions; agricultural BMP’s only work if properly installed, used,
and maintained; watershed scale improvements may not be seen in the field until the
implementation of many projects over many years; gated pipe can be used as an incentive to
implement other less popular BMP’s; some participants need more support and supervision than
others; it is important to try and determine the level of commitment from the participant; annual
inspections of implemented projects is key; and supplying agricultural BMP’s to Tribal and NonTribal Land Managers has helped with SUIT Public Relations. The PowerPoint presentation is
available at the SJWG website at
Conn Fraser – OSMRE/VISTA Outreach Coordinator, SJWG – Agricultural BMPs in San
Juan County
Conn Fraser presented information on the agricultural BMPs installed in San Juan County funded
by SJWG using NMED grants of EPA Section 319 funds during the recently completed Phase III
grant. The MST study showed that 94% of samples for ruminant source bacteria were positive.
This is the highest frequency of positive results and shows a constant source of ruminant fecal
contamination to the rivers. The activities associated with this source are: animals with direct
access to the rivers; animals grazing on irrigated fields; and animals grazing in upland and
riparian areas.
The Collaborative Water Quality Improvement Project for the San Juan River Watershed Phase
III problem statement states “Livestock are common in the many valleys. During the early
settlement of the area, a source of water commonly used for the animals was the many small
perennial tributaries. Even today, the practice of penning livestock directly adjacent to the
streams is common.” The project’s goal was the implementation of agricultural BMPs on
irrigated bottomland located in the valley areas of the watershed adjacent to or in relatively close
proximity to the rivers and perennial streams. A total of 12 BMP projects were funded by the
BMPs consisted of irrigation method improvements (upgrading from flood irrigation to gated
pipe, side roll sprinkler or drip irrigation), riparian fencing, and sediment fencing and stream bank
stabilization. Details and photos of several project sites were shown. The entire PowerPoint
presentation is available at the SJWG website at
The estimated load reductions for E. coli bacteria calculated through modelling were a total of
1.0255 x 1012 colony forming units/year for all rivers and 3.05 x 1011 cfu/yr for the San Juan
River, 5.925 x 1011 cfu/yr for the Animas River and 1.28 x 1011 cfu/yr for the La Plata River.
Bonnie Hopkins – Agriculture Agent, NMSU Cooperative Extension Service – Food Safety
Protocol when using contaminated irrigation water
Bonnie Hopkins gave a very interesting presentation on the potential risks and regulations on
contaminated irrigation water and food safety. There are ongoing concerns linking foodborne
illness outbreaks to the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. Unlike the use of well water
for irrigation, there are limitless opportunities for contamination and pollution of surface water
that cannot be controlled. Some of the non-point sources of pollution include: garbage, dead
animals, and sewer contamination.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48
million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases.
Estimating illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths for various types of diseases is a common and
important public health practice. But the problem is that no true database currently exists on
microbial quality of irrigation water and there is no true record directly associating foodborne
illness outbreaks with contaminated irrigation water. So irrigation water may or may not be a
major factor in foodborne illness outbreaks.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed pre-harvest crop contact irrigation and crop
spray water standards are no more than 235 colony forming units (CFU) of generic E. coli per
100 mL for any single sample. The U.S. Recreational water standards are126 CFU E. coli /100 ml
sample or 33 Enterococci CFU/100 ml sample and the GlobalGap (Good Agricultural Practices)
are 1000 fecal coliforms CFU/100 ml. According to the NMDA (NM Dept. of Agriculture) the
edible portion of the crop should not have any direct contact with contaminated irrigation water
for at least fourteen days prior to harvest.
Bonnie has advised irrigators using water from the Hogback Canal to thoroughly wash their
vegetables with clean potable water, not irrigation water, before eating or selling it. She
explained that irrigation water with E. coli levels (as documented by the MST study) should be
treated as a source of contamination similar to how you would treat juice from raw chicken.
While there has never been a reported case of illness associated with irrigated vegetables in this
area, the potential exists and precautions should be taken to be extra careful.
Bonnie listed the FDA’s Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) Principals that will affect all produce
sold in the nation, including local growers markets. The Principals address bacterial and viral
contamination of produce during the entire growing, packaging, shipping and marketing cycle.
The focus is on preventing contamination throughout the cycle instead of remediation actions to
decontaminate food. The list is available in Bonnie’s PowerPoint presentation at the SJWG
website at
A lively question and answer session followed the presentation with many questions concerning
how best to apply irrigation water to prevent bacterial contamination and implications for organic
farming operations. The best advice for consumers is to thoroughly wash all raw fresh produce in
clean potable water before eating. No disinfectants such as chlorine bleach should be used
because they can damage the fruit or vegetable and any remaining disinfectant present could
cause harm or illness to the consumer.
David Tomko explained that this was the last of the themed meetings to discuss the MST results
and that future meetings will be focused on the development of the Lower Animas River
Watershed Based Plan. However, efforts to keep the public informed about concerns with septic
systems and illegal dumping will continue through the efforts of an educational and outreach
committee that includes San Juan County, Farmington, Aztec, NMED, SJWG, San Juan Soil and
Water Conservation District and several local septic system professionals including Don Becker
and Don Moats.
The next meeting will be at 6:00 pm on Monday, August 24, 2015 at the Farmington Civic
Center. The meeting adjourned at 8:00 pm.