Results of water quality surveys available

SAN LUIS VALLEY — Residents of San Luis Valley may remember filling out several surveys last fall. One dealt with water quality in domestic wells. Another dealt with stressors affecting agricultural workers.

Anna Vargas has been working with Dr. Kathy James of the Colorado School of Public Health, who provided the surveys and has been studying the correlation between climate and health for the last 15 years.

Vargas clarifies the reason for these surveys and wants the residents of San Luis Valley to know about a new survey for pregnant women and children to determine possible harmful exposure to heavy metals.

"People need the data collected from surveys to create a baseline,” Vargas said. “We want to know how we can help the community, how to fill the gaps. How can we come together to continue the resilience of the people and how to get there."

Dr. James discovered, through her research, that water was getting contaminated by rising levels of harmful metals, like arsenic. An article by KFF Health News provides background and details about the problem of heavy metals, specifically arsenic, getting into the soil and water. The article also provides information on what organizations like Colorado Open Lands, San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, along with James’s research, are trying to do to find solutions to alleviate the rising levels.

Heavy metals like arsenic occur naturally in the soil, but a prolonged drought over the last 20 years in San Luis Valley has caused the levels to become much higher, because the arsenic is not being diluted. James’s research has shown even small amounts of arsenic, ingested over time, can increase heart problems, diabetes, diseases that are prevalent in the Valley. Pregnant women and children are more vulnerable.

Vargas says people in San Luis Valley have done surveys in the past, but rarely hear the results. Vargas was adamant that the results and data from the agricultural survey and water testing of wells go back to the community. James had built trust and rapport in the San Luis Valley community, therefore, "the surveys of 2022 were successful. There was a tremendous turnout."

Vargas points out, "Most San Luis Valley residents receive their information via radio or newspaper, rather than social media. With community events, you meet people where they are at; be there in person. The events gave everyone a fair chance to participate.”

She commends Dr. James, "She is amazing to work with. They really listened to the boots on the ground. (They) recognized what is needed from the community themselves...It is important to share resources, to come together in times of need. Identify the data. Be solution based.”

Dr. James hoped to test the water quality of 1,000 domestic wells. To date, there have been 1,000 participants. Their water was tested for free. If needed, people received a free water filter, which does help get rid of the toxic metals. The results were sent directly to the well owners. The manuscript for the agricultural study is available through James.

The focus now is on pregnant women and children. MEMCARE is a free survey through the University of Colorado and the Colorado School of Public Health for pregnant women over the age of 18 living in the San Luis Valley and one of their children to determine if their drinking water has high levels of heavy metals. If there are unsafe levels, people will receive a free water filter. Along with a short survey, participants are asked to submit urine and nail samples, as well as water and soil samples from their home.

Because of the personal nature of this survey, to participate, people can leave a message for Dr. James at 303-724-8169, email her at [email protected] or contact the study coordinator Francesca Macaluso at [email protected].