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Study Finds Human Waste Bacteria In NM Rivers

PHOTO: The San Juan Watershed Group reports that its testing shows traces of bacteria from human waste and unsafe levels of E.coli in the Animas and San Juan rivers in Northern New Mexico. Photo courtesy the U-S National Park Service.
PHOTO: The San Juan Watershed Group reports that its testing shows traces of bacteria from human waste and unsafe levels of E.coli in the Animas and San Juan rivers in Northern New Mexico. Photo courtesy the U-S National Park Service.
April 10, 2014

FARMINGTON, N.M. – Testing from the San Juan Watershed Group finds high levels of E.coli and bacteria from human waste in two rivers in Northern New Mexico.

David Tomko, watershed coordinator at the San Juan Watershed Group, which is partially funded by the state, says water sampling shows the potentially dangerous bacteria in both the Animas and San Juan rivers. Both are tributaries of the Colorado River.

Tomko says the E.coli could be from agriculture, and the human bacteria could be from possible leaking septic tanks, or septic waste being illegally dumped into the river.

"That's the explanation that we came up with so far, that there's a direct discharge of septic tanks into the river, either illegally or due to failure," he explains.

Tomko says testing shows that E.coli in the rivers during certain times of the year is 15 times higher than the legal limit.

He adds that rains carrying animal waste into the rivers may account for some of the high E.coli levels.

Tomko says human waste bacteria is more dangerous to humans than animal bacteria, because we are more susceptible to water-borne diseases carried by humans.

He urges anyone recreating on the Animas and San Juan rivers to avoid ingesting the water.

"It's important for the public to be aware and be cautious,” he stresses. “But again, drinking untreated surface water – river water – is a well-known thing you should try to avoid."

Tomko adds the ongoing testing and research could help New Mexico get funding from the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the worst areas of the rivers.

He says that testing on the Animas and San Juan rivers in Colorado shows safe levels of bacteria.


Troy Wilde, Public News Service - NM