Gold King Mine spill settlement to help fund a new generation of farmers

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AZTEC, N.M. — Who can forget when the Animas River ran orange – threatening drinking water and livelihoods for thousands of people in the Four Corners. More than seven years later, we are still dealing with the fallout. 

Now we are seeing some of the plans designed to address the negative impacts the spill had on the region.

The New Mexico Attorney General’s office awarded five organizations in San Juan County $4 million.

The largest chunk of cash is going to San Juan County’s New Mexico State University Extension Office, that has plans to invest it back into the earth.

“We want to make San Juan County beautiful and cover it with farms like it used to be,” said Bonnie Hopkins-Byers a county program director for San Juan Extension. 

Which was awarded just shy of a million dollars in funding from the Gold King Mine settlement.

“We were really surprised and obviously very enthusiastic and excited. We’ve really been working on this process for a long time and been dreaming about advancing our programs,” Hopkins added.

Hopkins said the funding will go towards a variety of different projects, including creating new jobs that will produce a new crop of farmers. 

“A new farmer trainer that will work to train new farmers on site here at the growing forward farm. Each of the farmers get about a quarter of an acre and then hands-on assistance to develop their agricultural business,” Hopkins said. “We’re hoping they grow things like specialty crops to sell to our schools and our food banks, different restaurants.”

But the growth doesn’t stop at the farm’s borders. 

“Then to look at people that already have land or may be have inherited land, but they don’t have the skills or knowledge or tools that they might need to actually farm it,” Hopkins added.

Turning unused land into a field of economic opportunity.

“We are just excited to just bring jobs to the agricultural industry in San Juan County and hopefully continue to grow and advance those, so we have an even stronger agricultural system in northwest New Mexico,” said Hopkins. 

Hopkins said that their goal is to create 15 new farmers in the next two years, and the funding will create the infrastructure to house these new programs.