The Cerro Grande Fire and Its Effect On The Rio Grande Watershed

The Central Document for this Conference

In the aftermath of the Cerro Grande Fire, the Rio Grande stands threatened by radioactive and hazardous wastes from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The destruction by fire of a vast area of mountain vegetation surrounding the Laboratory will cause flooding, erosion, and runoff that could transport nuclear and hazardous contaminants from burned LANL storage and dumpsites into the Rio Grande/Bravo Watershed. We need a long-range plan to protect the watershed and all its associated flora and fauna.

This document serves as a presentation of the process, strategies, and objectives associated with the workshop.

Workshop Objectives:

  • Provide a public venue for the communication/dissemination of information regarding the impact of: 1) the Cerro Grande Fire and 2) current LANL nuclear waste management/monitoring activities on the Rio Grande Watershed.

  • Provide an opportunity for the public to participate in exploring and addressing the watershed-based public health and ecological consequences of the Cerro Grande Fire.

  • The initiation of a Cerro Grande Fire Citizenís Oversight strategy for monitoring LANLís nuclear research, weapons development, and waste management as they impact the Rio Grande Watershed.

  • To engage the public in identifying and defining the issues, factors, and events that will require monitoring by a Citizenís Oversight process.

  • The creation of a widely representative public voice capable of influencing LANL to reconsider its priorities in a manner that results in increased value being placed on the care and restoration of the Rio Grande Watershed.

  • The primary objective of the workshop is the initiation of an integrated Citizensí Oversight strategy designed to protect the Rio Grande River from contamination from LANL nuclear and hazardous waste management activities. An integrated strategy is defined as one whose key participant members are representative of the various stakeholder groups who have a direct vested interest in the health of the watershed as well as concern for public health issues associated with living within the ecological boundaries of the river system. The Oversight strategy will require a coalition of organizations such as CCNS, the Rio Grande Restoration Project, at least one of the regional watershed protection groups, the Washington, D.C. based Nuclear Policy Project, and interested Pueblo Nations to work together as advocates for the well-being of the Watershed environment.

    The Oversight strategy will be based on the present model of the resolution of a successful lawsuit brought against the DOE and LANL by CCNS for violations of the Clean Air Act. The parties agreed to a Consent Decree, which required independent, non-governmental auditing of the radioactive air emissions monitoring program at LANL. This audit model has proven to be an effective strategy respected by all parties involved. Our hope is to collaboratively, with LANLís participation to develop an oversight model without resorting to litigation.

    The Oversight strategy will be developed collaboratively with the various groups who will participate in its implementation. The term of the Citizens Oversight Coalition will be six to eight years (this term is generally agreed upon by experts familiar with the environmental consequences of similar fires).

    It is anticipated that the strategy will be ready for announcement, comment, and application after the monsoon season (fall of 2000). This time frame allows a three-month strategy development and participant recruitment period.

This Conference brings together national and local experts in a venue specifically focused on the environmental/ecological consequences of a "natural disaster" occurring within and affecting the geographic context of a nuclear weapons research and production facility. Such a gathering and discussion is precedent setting and will provide models for addressing similar events nationally (i.e. Hanford Fire). All involved with the Conference, as well as the U.S. Congress are aware of the interstate and international implications of the Cerro Grande Fire. The Rio Grande flows through Pueblo Nations lands, farmlands, through Texas and eventually into Mexico. Any contamination that may find its way into the river has social justice as well environmental health implications/consequences. The health and environmental issues also apply to Pueblo Nations, and the towns and villages to the north where the smoke plume drifted through the air and dropped ashes onto the lands and waterways. It is probable that contaminants from the many toxic substances from the Los Alamos townsite that were burned in the fire as well as contaminated lab property lands that burned, may have gone up in the plume assisted by 60≠70 mph winds. Therefore, health and environmental impacts of the plume of smoke that went north during the fire must be considered as part of the Citizens Oversight Coalitionís focus as well as the effects of the aftermath of the fire that will affect the people and the lands along our Watershed for many years.

Executive Summary of the White Paper