Our Wa­ter Qual­ity

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If you are on a pri­vate well not served by a pub­lic wa­ter sys­tem, here is an ex­cel­lent op­por­tu­nity to get some base­line test­ing of your well wa­ter at no cost. This test­ing pro­gramis spon­sored by the New Mex­ico En­vi­ron­ment Depart­ment and the New Mex­ico Depart­ment of Health in co­op­er­a­tion with the City of Santa Fe’s San­gre de Cristo Wa­ter Divi­sion. The test­ing in­cludes elec­tri­cal con­duc­tiv­ity, sul­fate, pH, ni­trate, flu­o­ride, ar­senic, iron, and man­ganese.

The most com­mon health-risk con­tam­i­nants in our area are ar­senic, flu­o­ride, ni­trate, and ura­nium. These con­tam­i­nants are all reg­u­lated in pub­lic wa­ter sys­tems but there are no com­pa­ra­ble reg­u­la­tions for pri­vate wells, for which own­ers are re­spon­si­ble. Ni­trate does not oc­cur nat­u­rally in this area and el­e­vated ni­trate lev­els are com­monly a re­sult of septic-sys­tem con­tam­i­na­tion. The other three mem­bers of the quar­tet are all nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring and are rea­son­ably pre­dictable in ge­o­graphic oc­cur­rence. Their ef­fects on hu­man health (par­tic­u­larly as re­lated to el­e­vated flu­o­ride) are well known.

The highest oc­cur­rences of ar­senic around Santa Fe oc­cur in what is known as the “north­west quad­rant.” Sci­en­tists have the­o­rized that ar­senic and other met­als may come to or near the sur­face along the Rio Grande Rift, the fault zone through which the mod­ern Rio Grande cour­ses. Ar­senic is com­mon in the La Tierra area wells. There is also an area in El­do­rado where el­e­vated ar­senic lev­els are com­monly re­ported. El­e­vated flu­o­ride lev­els are known from the greater Po­joaque area. Ex­ces­sive flu­o­ride is well doc­u­mented to have an ad­verse ef­fect on teeth and bones.

But the most pre­dictable health-risk con­tam­i­nant of the four, and one which is not in­cluded in this free test­ing pro­gram, and for which you should con­sider ad­di­tional con­tam­i­nant-spe­cific lab test­ing, is nat­u­rally-oc­cur­ring ura­nium. If you are a reg­u­lar reader of this col­umn, you will know that in­ter­pre­ta­tion of ura­nium iso­topes pro­vides con­vinc­ing ev­i­dence that there is no cor­re­la­tion be­tween el­e­vated ura­nium lev­els in well wa­ter east of the Rio Grande with an­thro­pogenic ac­tiv­i­ties at Los Alamos Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory. Wells sit­u­ated along the (granitic) San­gre de Cristo moun­tain front are ura­nium-prone. The other area where you should ab­so­lutely test for ura­nium in well wa­ter is Nambé, where nu­mer­ous ge­o­logic fac­tors (again, all un­re­lated to LANL) con­verge to re­sult in the sin­gle great­est lo­cal con­cen­tra­tion of el­e­vated ura­nium lev­els— as high as 1,800 parts per bil­lion. (The EPA’s max­i­mum con­tam­i­na­tion level is 30 parts per bil­lion.)

If you live in a ge­o­graphic area men­tioned above, I rec­om­mend that you take ad­van­tage of this free test­ing. It is not a com­plete test suite; but if noth­ing else, it will help raise your aware­ness of the wa­ter you are drink­ing. To find out more about this test­ing pro­gram and sam­ple col­lec­tion, visit the web­site https://nm­track­ing.org/me­dia/cm­s_­page_­me­dia/187/ Santa%20Fe%20Flyer.pdf and bring your well-wa­ter sam­ple to the Gen­oveva Chavez Com­mu­nity Cen­ter on April 22 or 23.

Stephen Wi­man holds M.S. and Ph.D. de­grees in ge­ol­ogy and is a re­tired petroleum ge­ol­o­gist. He also spent 11 years lo­cally in con­tam­i­nant oc­cur­rence and wa­ter re­me­di­a­tion. He is a mem­ber of the City of Santa Fe’s Wa­ter Con­ser­va­tion Com­mit­tee and serves on the Santa Fe Wa­ter­shed As­so­ci­a­tion board. He may be reached at 505-231-1355 and skwiman@icloud.com.


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