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Taos News: Group Looks for Ways to Clean Up Rio Fernando

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Río Fernando de Taos - one of the main rivers through Taos - is polluted.

But who are the main culprits?

Depending on which part of the river and the time of year, the primary sources of the contamination - measured as the bacteria E. coli found in feces - are cattle, dogs, birds and people, according to a recent report from the nonprofit Amigos Bravos.

The report, released Monday (Nov. 18) at a public meeting, also notes other sources of pollution in the river are from development, road runoff and septic tanks.

The report is a draft plan for addressing the poop-polluted runoff that is a main cause of the contamination in the river that flows from the head of Taos Canyon through Taos and past Fred Baca Park. The report is now available on the Amigos Bravos website. It proposes 24 on-the-ground projects and 14 outreach education projects to help clean up the river and prevent more pollution.

Amigos Bravos is asking for public comment on the draft Río Fernando de Taos Watershed Plan and proposed projects for cleaning up the river and educating people on how to prevent further contamination.

The nonprofit environmental group has spent years sampling the river and then with a couple of Environmental Protection Agency grants and more than 300 samples, determined the sources of the contamination. The group held nine public meetings as it worked on the report. Monday's was the tenth.

Shannon Romeling, the project coordinator, said if people don't want to go through the whole 119-page report, Figures 6-1 and 7-1 list all the proposed projects for reducing pollution into the river. "If people want to read the whole document and comment, great. But if not, those two tables are great places to go," she said.

Romeling said public comment will be incorporated into the plan before it is sent to EPA for review. Once the plan is finalized, it will make the projects eligible for future federal funds, she said.

A few days before the plan was released, another group devoted to restoring the Río Fernando met at the Juan I. Gonzales Agriculture Center. They are part of the Río Fernando de Taos Revitalization Collaborative, which includes representatives from nine groups, including Amigos Bravos, traditional irrigators, local governments and the Forest Service.

More than 60 of them gathered around tables after enjoying a shared dinner to propose ideas for improving water quality and wildlife habitat, protecting acequias and creating public access and trails along the river.

"If you keep people out, there's no reason for them to want to protect the river," said a man at one table. "We need controlled access."

At another table, Taos resident Marilyn Farrow said she's seen too many sections of the river go dry "much of the year" and wondered what could be done.

Fritz Hahn, a town councilor and longtime advocate for restoring a historic acequia through Taos, said the collaborative "is trying to thread the needle. Protect the river but support traditional uses."

The collaborative has ongoing public meetings and work projects on the river and nearby acequias. Find out more at


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