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An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
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Taint of massive mine spill stays west of divide

Bill Diven

The massive spill of mine waste and toxic sludge into Colorado’s Rio de las Animas Perdidas prompted calls to local news media including the Signpost expressing concern the Rio Grande would be affected.

Despite the two rivers being on opposite sides of the Continental Divide, the question isn’t as farfetched as it might sound. Some water headed for the Pacific does make an unnatural left turn—although without quite flowing uphill—to reach our side of the divide.

The disaster occurred on August 5 when a federal remediation contractor investigating an ongoing discharge of mine wastewater accidentally uncorked the debris-blocked entrance to the Gold King Mine. An estimated three million gallons of toxic soup laden with heavy metals gushed out in about an hour, churning down a canyon and into the Animas just above Silverton, Colorado.

The waste plume turned miles of the Animas orange as it surged down-  stream about 44 miles while dropping three thousand feet to Durango, where    it continued south into New Mexico. The tainted water flowed through Aztec and joined the San Juan River, a major tributary of the Colorado River in Farmington, before flowing west through Arizona and Utah into Lake Powell.

For about ten days during the height of the crisis, irrigators, municipalities, the Navajo Nation, and other users were unable to draw water from the rivers. The busy rafting season around Durango ground to a halt.

But the river soon cleared, leaving lingering concern over the heavy metals that settled to the bottom of the Animas where they joined other pollutants left from previous spills and more than a century of unregulated and lightly regulated mining in the area. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency is paying a political price for causing the spill. A congressional hearing is in the offing.

The Rio Grande connection comes from the San Juan-Chama Diversion Project, a series of dams, channels, and tunnels to give 13 New Mexico municipalities, tribes, agencies, and irrigation districts a share of the Colorado River. Work on the diversion started in the early 1960s, although studies of the idea began shortly after World War I, according to the Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the project.

Albuquerque was allocated 48,000 acre-feet a year, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District 21,000 acre-feet, and the town of Bernalillo four hundred acre-feet.

To make that happen, water is diverted from the headwaters of the Navajo River, a tributary of the San Juan, east of Pagosa Springs, Colorado, and far upstream from the junction with the Animas. From there it flows by gravity, eventually crossing under the Continental Divide through the 13-mile-long Azotea Tunnel northwest of Chama and into Heron Reservoir and the Chama River near Tierra Amarilla. The Chama reaches the Rio Grande at Española.


DWI Checkpoints in Bernalillo

—Tom Romero, Chief of Police, Bernalillo

The Bernalillo Police Department will be conducting DWI checkpoints and DWI saturation patrols in and around the Town of Bernalillo during the months of August and September. Please don’t drink and drive.


Rio Rancho Police to conduct check points and saturation patrols

—Michael Geier

Throughout the month of September, the Rio Rancho Police will conduct DWI checkpoints as well as DWI saturation patrols. Officers will be on the lookout for drivers that are impaired by alcohol or drugs. Motorists can be arrested if they are impaired by over the counter and prescription drugs, as well as illicit substances. Impaired driving affects everyone, and the risk to our community just isn’t worth it. Please use a designated driver.

Of the 10,076 people who were killed in impaired-driving crashes in 2013, sixty-five percent were the drunk drivers themselves. Those 6,515 drunk drivers planned on making it to their destinations, but they didn’t.

In every state, it’s illegal to drive with a blood-alcohol level of .08 or higher. The Rio Rancho Police Department wants to remind drivers that it’s not a recommendation, it’s the law. And during the enforcement period, starting August 21, there will be a special emphasis on drunk-driving enforcement. Local drivers should expect to see more patrol vehicles, DUI checkpoints, and increased messaging about this reckless, preventable crime.

NHTSA data shows that repeat offenders are an especially dangerous facet of the drunk-driving problem. In the month of August from 2009 to 2013, of the drunk drivers involved in fatal crashes, eight percent of them had already been convicted of at least one drunk-driving offense. National enforcement dates are August 19 through September 7 and September 13 through 19.

 
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