Middle Río Grande Bosque Initiative
The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has just awarded Amigos Bravos a grant for a project as part of their Middle Río Grande Bosque Initiative. The project will involve monitoring, outreach, and restoration work along the acequia system of the Middle Río Grande (MRG), especially the area that passes through Albuquerque and the South Valley. The Bosque Initiative activities will complement the work that Amigos Bravos has already been doing in the South Valley area, reviving acequia associations, securing senior water rights, and building relationships with other community-based organizations in the area.
The purpose of the Acequia Monitoring, Outreach, and Restoration project is to integrate the traditional acequia system into efforts to maintain and improve water quality and quantity on the MRG. At present, the acequia system is not being monitored for contaminants and the system has, in many places, fallen into disrepair, hindering water flow and disrupting habitat. The disappearance of the traditional acequia system is weakening the remaining rural and semi-rural character of the MRG, which is essential to maintaining or expanding a viable bosque in the face of threats from urban expansion.
The Acequia project will benefit the bosque by providing data on contaminants and water quality in the acequia system that runs through the bosque, while also providing return flows to the Río Grande and groundwater recharge. Cleanups and planting/restoration along acequias will improve flows and riparian habitat. Outreach will disseminate accurate information on the cultural and natural resource roles of acequias and their relationship to both traditional life ways and the bosque ecosystem.
For pictures of Día Del Río, click here.
In 2004, Amigos Bravos assisted South Valley residents with the identification of issues and preparation of submittals during the Triennial Review of surface water quality standards held before the Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC). Residents requested that the WQCC change the designated use of this reach of the river from secondary to primary contact to reflect the fact that people still swam in the river.
South Valley residents were also concerned about the quality of water in the bosque and possible exposure of swimmers to contaminants, especially pesticides. In response to these concerns, and the finding that there had been no prior sampling of acequias in Bernalillo County, South Valley Partners for Environmental Justice (SVPEJ) and Amigos Bravos worked in collaboration with the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), Surface Water Quality Bureau, to conduct first-ever sampling of eight sites along acequias in the North and South Valley of Bernalillo County.
Analysis indicated the presence of E. coli in three sites (a recent study conducted by Karpoff & Associates for the Ciudad Soil and Water Conservation District reveals that the primary source is domestic pets). The most contaminated site tested, the San Jose Drain, exceeded water quality standards for E. coli and mercury and reference dose levels for semi-volatile organic compounds (in soil samples). The San Jose Drain is part of the South Valley Superfund Site.
Two studies by University of New Mexico graduate students have shown the presence of pharmaceuticals and other contaminants in the river and in soils and shallow groundwater adjacent to the river; it may be possible to test for these in the acequia system as well.
Rural People, Rural Policy Initiative
In April 2007, Amigos Bravos received a five-year grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation aimed at developing policies to enhance sustainable rural communities throughout the southwestern U.S. As part of the Southwest Network of the Kellogg Foundation Rural People, Rural Policy (RPRP) initiative, Amigos Bravos will be working with groups in Arizona and NM to develop policies that will encourage rural livelihood and sustainability in these changing times.
Water Monitoring for Acequias in Bernalillo County
First-ever water sampling of acequias in Bernalillo County indicates the presence of E. coli. The most contaminated site tested, the San Jose Drain, exceeded water quality standards for E. coli and mercury and reference dose levels for semi-organic volatile compounds found in soil samples.
The sampling was done in response to testimony provided by South Valley residents on surface water quality standards during the Triennial Review held before the Water Quality Control Commission (WQCC) in 2004. Residents testified that they had witnessed people swimming in the Río Grande and acequias that run through Bernalillo County and requested that the WQCC change the designated use of this reach of the river from secondary to primary contact. South Valley residents were also concerned about the quality of water in the acequias and possible exposure of swimmers to contaminants, especially pesticides.
Amigos Bravos assisted South Valley residents with the identification of issues and preparation of submittals for the Triennial Review. The change in designation from secondary to primary contact, to account for the true uses for the Río Grande, was subsequently approved by the WQCC the same year.
In response to these concerns, and the finding that there had been no prior sampling of acequias in Bernalillo County, South Valley Partners for Environmental Justice (SVPEJ) worked in collaboration with the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), Surface Water Quality Bureau to sample eight sites along acequias in the North and South Valley of Bernalillo County. The sites were selected by community residents based on their familiarity with existing and prior land uses and potential contaminants.
Three of the sites were sampled by NMED personnel, while the other sites were sampled by SVPEJ partners and promotores (community organizers). Separate samples were collected in spring, summer and fall.
Of the eight sites sampled, the San Jose Drain site, the Los Padillas Drain site, and the Albuquerque Riverside Drain site exceeded the New Mexico Administrative Code surface water quality standards for E. coli in the fall. The San Jose site also exceeded the E. coli standard in the spring. The San Jose Drain site was found to exceed the standard for dissolved mercury in the fall.
There were no exceedances of any semi-volatile organics tested based on surface water quality standards. Soil samples from the San Jose Drain site exceeded the reference dose (RfD) levels set by EPA Integrated Risk Information System for three semi-volatile organic compounds. However, none of the soil samples exceeded the health-based screening levels established by NMED Hazardous Waste Bureau, the NMED Ground Water Quality Bureau Voluntary Remediation Program, and the NMED Superfund Section.
The San Jose Drain is part of the South Valley Superfund Site, which the New Mexico Environment Department has been overseeing since 1992. Recently, Amigos Bravos Albuquerque Projects Director, Lucy Sanchez, and staff of South Valley Partners did site visits to industrial drains feeding into the San Jose Drain and noticed apparent industrial discharges into the ditches. They will investigate this further with the NMED and Bernalillo County Environmental Health staff.
The full report of this project can be obtained from the Bernalillo County Office of Environmental Health at (505) 314-0310.