Challenge Team Abstract
Team Number: 062
School Name: Aztec High School
Area of Science: Environmental
Project Title: San Juan River Quality
Testing for water quality in local watersheds can determine overall
health of riparian and aquatic habitats but can also evaluate background
effects as well.
San Juan River Quality waters is located 20 miles East of Aztec, New
Mexico. Our close proximity offers a unique opportunity to explore these
issues in detail.
There is also some concern about mercury poisoning in the San Juan River
from two coal burning plants upwind from Quality Waters near Kirtland,
Arsenic is a closely monitored health issue in the Rio Grande drainage
but needs further investigation here in the San Juan Basin.
Extrapolating all this data on computers will be our "Super Computer
Local papers have issued a warning about eating fish from the San Juan
River due to high levels of mercury. The 4 Corners and PNM coal fired
plants were blamed for these high Mercury levels from the mercury
released in coal. In defense, the power plants said the study is
inconclusive due to the high background of mercury naturally found in
the San Juan drainage.
Water quality surveys look at all of these issues when conducted
Insects have a "tolerance index" indicating levels of toxins that
specific species of insects can or cannot tolerate in given populations.
Specie identifications and overall numbers from regular macro
invertebrate sampling can give you indirect evidence of overall water
quality. Reparian surveys can add to background information concerning
water quality in a given drainage. Actual testing for heavy metals with
a mass spectrometer can detail parts per million and even billion for
specific metals found in solution.
Arsenic is also a major concern in New Mexico and is currently an
important health issue in the Rio Grande watershed. Arsenic is a proven
carcinogen and the World Health Organization in conjunction with the
Environmental Protection Agency has lowered acceptable arsenic levels to
only 5 ppb for local drinking water standards..
Monthly inspections of Quality Waters for macro invertebrate and
Monthly samples of Quality Waters for mass spectrometer heavy metals
Further investigation of Quality Waters for alkalinity, hardness, pH,
total dissolved solids, conductivity and dissolved oxygen.
Arsenic detection for levels over 5ppb.
Extrapolate data on computers to look for trends and indications for
several months of data have been obtained with students making monthly
rounds up to Quality waters for testing.
Heavy metals will be tested starting in November with the Farmington
City Water Treatment Plant lending use of a mass spectrometer for
Arsenic detection using an arsenator from New Mexico Tech..
Riparian and Aquatic Surveys, two months sampled so far.
Early Spring should give us an indication of overall water quality in
the San Juan River.