River Water Better than Bottled — At Least in the Rio Gallinas
UT Dallas Geological Field Camp Students Find Dramatic Improvement in Quality
June 5, 2008
Students from UT Dallas brought home more than field work experience from their recent month-long Geological Field Camp—they brought back a sparkling bill of health for the Rio Gallinas near Las Vegas, NM.
Led by Dr. Tom Brikowski of UT Dallas, the annual camp has produced enough data on the Rio Gallinas that comparisons to water quality from just two years ago provide a startling contrast to the picture today.
The associate professor of geosciences teaches the field course as a four-week capstone class for geology seniors. The class is taught jointly with the UT Arlington Geosciences Department.
River flow was down 90 percent in 2006 from current levels. Warm, slow-moving water with little flow offers prime aquatic real estate for bacteria and other dissolved components to flourish or accumulate. Potentially harmful bacteria were found at nearly half of the sites tested, and salinity was high at many downstream sites.
But two years later the camp’s 40 students have found no potentially harmful bacteria in the river or in the Storrie diversion system, where the river shares water with Storrie Lake, which covers 1,100 surface acres.
Though the hydrology picture in the New Mexico waterway is heartening, Brikowski isn’t encouraging anyone to take a big gulp.
“Las Vegas residents should drink treated tap water, not river water directly,” Brikowski said. “But this year the Gallinas around Las Vegas is remarkably fresh and pure. In terms of the parameters we measured, the river and the tap water Las Vegas gets from it are superior to bottled water.”
River flow will probably wane as the summer months linger, inviting bacteria and salinity to increase, but for now the outlook for the Rio Gallinas is crystal clean.