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Farmington mayor says water safe despite study on human waste in rivers

FARMINGTON, N.M. (AP) — The mayor of Farmington says residents don’t have to worry about their drinking water despite a study that found significant levels of bacteria hinting at the presence of human waste in two San Juan County rivers.

“I want to stress that our drinking water meets all regulation standards and is completely safe to drink,” Mayor Tommy Roberts said Thursday.

He made the comments after a New Mexico State University biology professor presented the results of the study by two Farmington-area organizations, The Daily Times reported.

Neal Schaeffer, a New Mexico Environmental Department scientist who was in the audience during the presentation at San Juan College, said it’s long been known that there is E. coli pollution in the county’s rivers.

But it’s new that human waste is the major source of the contamination, Schaeffer said.

NMSU Professor Geoffrey Smith, who participated in the two-year study of water in the San Juan and Animas rivers, said its finding of significant levels of bacteria tied to human waste is strikingly different from other New Mexico river pollution studies that identified bird and livestock waste as contaminants.

“This is disturbing,” Smith said.

Officials involved in the study have said it indicates that leaking septic tanks or illegal waste dumping could be polluting the rivers.

“We have to pinpoint where this is coming from,” Smith said.

The San Juan Soil and Water Conservation District and the San Juan Watershed Group partnered in the study that seeks to identify land-use practices contributing to river contamination.

Smith said the state Environment Department should advise residents and visitors about whether to use the rivers for recreation, but he suggested that people be warned not to swim in rivers after rainstorms, which can wash pollution off land and into the water.

Roberts said correcting the problem will be difficult until further studies identifying the pollution sources have been completed.