Response to Atención Article, March 22, 2019
Dear Friends of Caminos de Agua,
We are very excited to update you in the next couple of days on our incredible events last week to celebrate World Water Day. We had seven events culminating in the signing of an agreement with the Municipal Government to create a Water Plan for the Future of San Miguel!
But, before that, we would like to share a response we wrote to a recent news article published in the local paper, Atención, about our Water Monitoring work. An important part of our mission is to educate diverse audiences on extremely complex water quality issues. While we are very happy to see these important issues gaining more coverage, unfortunately, we feel this article was a missed opportunity to add clarity to an already confusing subject.
So, especially for those of you who live in the region, we wanted to set the record straight and get you accurate information in a timely fashion.
You can read the original Atención article here.
Atención has agreed to published a shortened version of our response. The complete Letter to the Editor can be found below.
Full response to Atención Article
On behalf of Caminos de Agua, we want to thank all of the people who responded to us offering support regarding the March 22 Atención article “Is there Too Much Arsenic and Fluoride in San Miguel Water?”. Caminos de Agua also greatly appreciates that the Atención reported on water problems in San Miguel. These are incredibly important issues for the city and all of its residents. However, there were statements made in the article that were confusing, inaccurate, and misleading, especially as they relate to Caminos de Agua’s Online Water Quality Maps, Caminos de Agua’s water testing protocols, and the statement that Caminos de Agua’s data is not well supported and in conflict with that of SAPASMA.
Caminos de Agua has been testing and monitoring water quality throughout the region since 2011, when we were originally founded and incorporated as a nonprofit organization. We work in partnership with universities and certified labs to analyze levels of arsenic, fluoride, and other contaminants at a variety of water sources including deep wells, artesian wells, manantiales, and even bottled water. As a service to residents of San Miguel, Caminos de Agua also tests residential homes to understand the quality of water that is coming out of the tap.
Caminos de Agua has never been provided access to test urban wells in San Miguel. Nearly all of our data in the urban center comes directly from residential taps, not urban wells. So, we would like to state, unequivocally, that our map and corresponding data does not show that 15 urban wells in San Miguel are contaminated with dangerous levels of arsenic and/or fluoride as the article stated.
With regards to this issue, our map shows two things:
Two urban wells – Lomas and Ejido de Tirado – are contaminated with dangerous levels of arsenic and/or fluoride. This data was provided to us directly by SAPASMA several years ago and completely agrees with the statements made by Director Francisco Jiménez, current Director of SAPASMA.
Twelve urban taps in San Miguel – again NOT wells – were contaminated with dangerous levels of arsenic and/or fluoride when we tested those taps in collaboration with Texas A&M University in 2016. Those at-risk taps were located in the colonias of San Antonio, San Luis Rey, Olimpo, Providencia, San Rafael, Guadalupe, Linda Vista, and Las Brisas. Again, we have never had access to urban wells in San Miguel, and the levels we tested coming out of the taps at those sites, and on those dates, were not fit for human consumption or cooking.
Director Jiménez of SAPASMA said the city is currently diluting the arsenic and fluoride levels. That may very well be true today. However, the levels of arsenic and fluoride were not sufficiently diluted at the time of the studies represented on our map. If SAPASMA has corrected this contamination problem since our last round of testing, and is now properly diluting the arsenic and fluoride levels at the tap, then we applaud them. We look forward to seeing new results in the future.
Our website clearly states that the data represented on our maps come from a mixture of rural wells and urban taps. However, to avoid further confusion in the future, we will be immediately updating our map to clearly illustrate the water source of every single point as concisely and easy-to-understand as possible.
The article also stated that Caminos de Agua was not able to provide “concrete proof” to support our findings. That could not be further from the truth. We support all of our work with stringent record keeping. We have comprehensive datasets and hundreds of test reports from Texas A&M University, Northern Illinois University, Kansas State University, and a certified laboratory in Salamanca, Guanajuato. We have an impeccable history of providing accurate data to the public that has been corroborated by independent researchers, certified laboratories, and multiple levels of government including CONAGUA and even SAPASMA.
We believe in “open data” and are willing to share any data sheets, reports, processes, and sampling methods to the Atención or anyone else interested in these matters.
This story portrays Caminos de Agua and SAPASMA as being pitted against each other, which is inaccurate and simply not true. In fact, Caminos de Agua is a prominent member of Agua Vida – a coalition 13 San Miguel NGOs working on local water issues. Agua Vida just signed an agreement with the Municipal Government, including SAPASMA, on March 21st to work together to create and implement a plan for the future of water in San Miguel. So, instead of being in opposition, both we and SAPASMA, as well as other organizations and government agencies, have committed ourselves to working together to solve existing problems regarding water quantity and quality.
While we applaud the Atención’s interest in reporting on regional water problems, this is a very complicated subject that requires careful investigation, learning, and reporting to get right. In several instances, this story is misleading, confusing, and presents an inaccurate picture.
On behalf of Caminos de Agua, I would like to invite the Atención and the greater public to come visit with us, learn more about our work, review the science and discipline behind everything we do, and hear our point of view regarding the water problems facing San Miguel and our greater region. So, we will be scheduling an information session regarding our Water Quality Monitoring Program, which includes the testing we have done in urban San Miguel, in the very near future. We will discuss our methodology and measures, go over reporting, and provide our analysis of the changing water quality conditions throughout our watershed. We will provide more information through our website, social media, and other outlets like Atención in the coming weeks.
Thanks to all those support our work and especially to the hundreds of people who came to our World Water Day events last week to learn more about the implications of our regional water issues.
Dylan Terrell and the entire Caminos de Agua Team.