What’s the Scoop on Poop in the San Juan Watershed?
San Juan Watershed Group Coordinator
San Juan Soil & Water Conservation District
Bacteria pollution in the San Juan Watershed has been an ongoing concern of the New Mexico Environment Department Surface Water Quality Bureau (NMED SWQB) and the San Juan Watershed Group (SJWG) for over two decades and poses serious health risks to the community if ingested unprocessed in high quantities. The San Juan River, Animas River, La Plata River, and other select tributaries have been listed as impaired for bacteria (i.e. containing quantities of E.coli over the EPA’s acceptable threshold) for at least 10 years, and both the NMED SWQB and SJWG have taken an active role in conducting water quality monitoring, on the ground projects, and public education to reduce the presence of fecal bacteria in our waterways.
In 2013 and 2014, the SJWG partnered with the NMED SWQB to conduct a Microbial Source Tracking study asking the simple question: Who pooped in the river? This study provided valuable information on host organisms of fecal bacteria and found that 46% of our E.coli samples exceeded the single sample standard for primary contact
(swimming), 94% of our samples tested positive for human source bacteria, and revealed a magnitude of increase in the concentration of human source bacteria on the San Juan River between Farmington and the Hogback.
Now in 2021, we’re partnering with NMED SWQB again to ask the next question: Where is the poop in our river coming from and what can we do about it? On a monthly basis between August and October, lead samplers from the SJWG and volunteer watershed dectives will sample over 17 locations along the San Juan River, Animas River, La Plata River, Shumway Arroyo, and Stevens Arroyo. Both E.coli and human source bacteria concentrations will be analyzed to answer the following questions on a watershed scale. Are high concentrations of bacteria still present? If so, where is the bacteria coming from? How much is coming from these areas? What further outreach, projects, and services can be done to reduce the amount of bacteria entering our waterways? Sampling will be conducted by both raft and vehicle travel, providing volunteers a fun and bird’s eye experience to learn river ecology, watershed science, and what it means to study water quality.
If you’d like to join for a sampling day, register for your spot by contacting me at the above address. Hurry, as space is limited! We’re looking forward to sharing the results of our research and a path forward in winter of 2021.