Red River hillside changes Río Grande color

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The Río Grande was light green for a few days over the weekend. State officials and people with local knowledge of the river name the cause as runoff from naturally exposed hills not far from the town of Red River.

The Taos News received several reports from Taos County residents about the color of the river ranging from “pea green” to somewhat orange between Friday (Aug. 25) and Monday (Aug. 28).

The New Mexico Environment Department conducted water quality tests at several points on the Río Grande Tuesday (Aug. 29) with initial results showing nothing “odd” in temperature or dissolved oxygen, according to Allison Majure, spokesperson for the department.

“We’ve seen this before, [the river running] that green, sometimes a weird, shiny green,” said Julia Ives, a 25-year resident of Pilar. “The locals have been discussing it for years. The mud washes down during the rains … usually from around the Red River area,” she said.

“It’s not uncommon one bit,” said Rico Salazar, owner of the Pilar Yacht Club, which is located at the intersection of State Road 68 and State Road 570.

“I don’t know why people are concerned. The river always changes color [after a big rain]. It can take a few days to clear up,” he said.

Salazar, whose business is within a mile of the Río Grande, said the river was “clearing up” as of Monday (Aug. 28).

State officials echoed the general diagnosis for the river’s off-color hue.

Dan Williams, a spokesperson for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, told The Taos News Aug. 28, “This comes up every time there is a big rain event. It happens fairly often — about once a year.”

The department operates the Red River Fish Hatchery, the largest fish hatchery in the state, which is located along the Red River a couple of miles east of La Junta Point in the Wild Rivers Recreation Area of the Río Grande del Norte National Monument.

Williams confirmed the discolored water was coming from the Red River, which is a tributary of the Río Grande that joins together at La Junta Point, about 13 miles north of the Taos Junction Bridge. However, the hatchery is fed with spring water, not the Red River, meaning the discoloration doesn’t impact operations there, he said.

While Williams said some of the people who call the department think the discoloration comes from the rock piles of the former molybdenum mine, he said the actual cause is a naturally exposed hillside on the north edge of State Road 38 between Questa and Red River.

Tommy Lyles, spokesperson for Chevron, told The Taos News Tuesday (Aug. 29) the water catchment system at the waste rock piles is functioning.

Furthermore, two mud slides shut down State Road 38 Friday (Aug. 25) for about 3 1/2 hours.

The mudslides happened in two locations – a minor one near mile marker 9 (which is also near the Elephant Rock Campground) and a more major slide near mile marker 11, not far from the town of Red River.

The hillside near mile marker 9, however, historically has many mudslides. One occurred there as recently as last month. “It’s a natural scar,” according to town of Red River spokesperson Jenna Grubbs, that washes down yellow, greenish mud “because of the rains.”

During those slides, some of the mud goes into the Red River, she said.

Grubbs commended the Red River public works, highway and marshal departments for their work in cleaning the slide and reopening the road, which was also assisted by crews from Questa.

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