CCNS Water Work
Protecting Regional Ground Water, Surface Water and Drinking Water
Over 18 million cubic feet of radioactive and hazardous waste is buried in the mesa tops and in the shallow sediments along the canyon bottoms at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Much of this waste is buried in unlined pits, shafts and trenches. Few precautions have been taken to protect the regional aquifer located below LANL and the surface water which flows across the site.
Evidence of LANL's pollution and its impact on our regional water continues to mount on a regular basis. As the quantity of our local water supplies dwindles, its quality becomes increasingly important. We need to act now as the tip of this contamination iceberg is emerging. All people and our communities are intricately tied to the health of rivers, acequias and other waters. Historical and on-going activities at LANL threaten our cultural, spiritual and ecological survival. In order to protect our water, CCNS is acting now. We are educating the public, decision makers and media about sources of contamination at LANL and addressing the need to make cleanup a priority.
Both ground and surface water are used as drinking water. The systems are all connected and the source of contamination is the same: waste, discharges and emissions from LANL.
When possible, CCNS takes a holistic approach to protecting regional water, addressing ground, surface and their joint connection to drinking water.
Communities for Clean Water (CCW): CCNS has been instrumental in the formation of CCW, a network of community groups who have come together to address water issues at LANL. CCW was formally known as LANL Water Watch. CCW includes the following non-governmental organizations: Amigos Bravos, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, Don Gabino Andrade Community Acequia, Embudo Valley Environmental Monitoring Group, Honor Our Pueblo Existence, New Mexico Acequia Association, Partnership for Earth Spirituality, Rio Grande Restoration and SouthWest Organizing Project.
Rio Grande Watershed Initiative (RGWI): CCNS formed the RGWI to address community concerns about the impacts of the Cerro Grande fire on the Rio Grande Watershed. Through the RGWI, CCNS conducted four independent citizen-based sampling trips from the Buckman to Cochiti Dam. We took samples of moss and water from the springs that emanate from beneath LANL and feed the Rio Grande.
Through the RGWI, CCNS has released its "New Mexico's Right to Know: The Potential for Groundwater Contaminants from LANL to Reach the Rio Grande," by groundwater hydrologist George Rice. Using data from LANL and the New Mexico Environment Department, Rice determined that the travel time for a fast-moving contaminant discharged from LANL's Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility would reach the springs at the Rio Grande, a distance of eight miles, in 26 years or less. As a result of the Rice report, LANL reduced its predicted travel times from tens of thousands of years to decades.
However, federal and state regulations draw a distinction between surface and ground water and in our legal and technical work, we separate our projects according to this distinction.
Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is located on the Pajarito Plateau above the regional aquifer. The Plateau is a very complex geology located between the Rio Grande and the Jemez Mountains. The Pajarito Plateau consists of a series of east-west oriented canyons and mesa. The elevation of the mesas range from about 6,200 feet at the Rio Grande to about 7,800 feet along the flanks of the Jemez Mountains. This aquifer is the sole source of drinking water for the communities of White Rock and Los Alamos. Likewise, LANL's own modeling indicates that the groundwater flows east toward the Buckman Wellfield where Santa Fe pumps 40% of its drinking water.
The front line of defense against groundwater contamination is a credible network of monitoring wells, however there are many well documented deficiencies in LANL's groundwater well network so that many of the wells are not capable of detection. These deficiencies include misplacement of wells and well screens, use of organic fluids and bentonite clay drilling muds which mask the presence of radionuclides and other LANL contaminants and poor sampling and analysis methods.
The issues with the groundwater wells mean that we cannot know what contaminants are traveling in our groundwater or drinking water. However, early detections of fast moving contaminants indicate that our water is at risk. Detected contaminants include toxic hexavalent chromium, nickel, high explosives, perchlorate, pentachlorophenol, and radioactive tritium, plutonium, americium, cesium, strontium-90, and possibly neptunium. In order to protect drinking water we must:
Require monthly sampling of our drinking water wells using the most protective and sensitive methods possible
Install new groundwater wells according to environmental laws and regulations
Conduct an independent review of all data in the LANL water quality database to remove all unrepresentative data.
CCNS addresses the ground water contamination and unreliable network of monitoring wells by working with Robert H. Gilkeson, Registers Geologist and award winning whistle blower, through the following projects:
Drinking Water Contamination reported in DOE and LANL documents: In the 2006 draft LANL Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement, the Department of Energy published LANL data which showed detections of radionuclides in Los Alamos County and City of Santa Fe drinking water supply wells. When questioned by CCNS and Gilkeson, LANL used data from their flawed network of wells to dismiss the claims. CCNS and Gilkeson are holding LANL accountable.
National Academies of Science Review of LANL Groundwater Protection Plans and Practicesk: To address many of the concerns raised by CCNS and Gilkeson, the DOE invited the National Academies of Science (NAS) to review LANL's groundwater protection program. CCNS and Gilkeson presented materials and provided written comments about concerns to the NAS. The prepublication copy of the final report was released on June 8, 2007. CCNS and Gilkeson prepared a letter, with 11 attachments, about our concerns with the report.
The watersheds downstream and downwind from LANL, including the Rio Grande and its tributaries, are used for drinking water, irrigation and sacred ceremony. Rio Grande water flows into Texas and Mexico and water compacts with our neighbors to the south require that we guarantee both water quantity and water quality.
The Cerro Grande fire of 2000 which burned over 7,000 acres of LANL property causing increased erosion, flooding and runoff, which transported radioactive contaminants, including some of the highest levels of plutonium, through the canyon systems to the Rio Grande.
Clean Water Act Lawsuit: In order to address surface water issues, many of the organizations within the Communities for Clean Water, as well as additional groups and individuals, have sent a 60 day notice of intent to sue DOE for violations of the Clean Water Act at LANL. These violations include:
Failure to conduct adequate monitoring;
Failure to Report Violations;
Failure to have pollution controls in place;
Failure to comply with water quality standards; and
As a result of the lawsuit we hope to achieve:
Zero contaminants discharged from LANL (a Clean Water Act goal).
Clean up of over 1,400 contaminated sites.
Federal and state regulators holding LANL accountable for past and present contamination.
LANL to monitor and implement Best Management Practices for discharges and waste dumping.
Total fines, which are possibly in the billions of dollars from prior and on-going violations, be vigorously pursued and allocated to complete and effective independent monitoring and remediation of the sites in question to prevent future contamination of our waters.
The Buckman Water Diversion Project: The City of Santa Fe plans on diverting water from the Rio Grande for drinking water supplies. CCNS has been working to educate decision makers about LANL contamination and possible impacts on the project.