.News Update 1/18/08

Espanola Basin Declared Sole Source Drinking Water Aquifer

January 18, 2008

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced that they have designated the Espanola Basin as a sole source drinking water aquifer system. The designation was approved by the EPA Region 6, which is based in Dallas, Texas. This is the first sole source aquifer designation in New Mexico.

The designation is important to protect regional drinking water supplies. To qualify, a sole source aquifer must supply 50% or more of the drinking water for the area and that, should the aquifer become contaminated, demonstrate that there are no reasonable alternative sources of water.

The designated Espanola Basin System encompasses an area of about 3,000 square miles. It includes the area from the southern slopes of Mount San Antonio in the north, to the Truchas Peaks to the east, to below the San Marcos area along to where the Santa Fe River flows into the Rio Grande at Cochiti Dam to the south, and to the west along the rim of the Jemez Caldera. It includes the cities of Espanola, Los Alamos and Santa Fe, as well as the Pueblos of Picuris, Ohkay Owingeh, Santa Clara, San Ildefonso, Pojoaque, Nambe, Tesuque and Cochiti.

The La Cienega Valley Citizens for Environmental Safeguards (CES) began the petition process in 2001. The CES mission is to conserve imperiled watersheds both in water quantity and quality issues, habitat, native species and their threatened habitat and the cultural resources that affects traditional and historic communities and provide public education about these issues.

CES Director Elaine Cimino and Zane Spiegel, a geo-hydrologist, who is very familiar with the Espanola Basin, wrote and filed the petition. Spiegel began exploring the Basin on horseback in the early 1950s when he worked for the U.S. Geological Survey. His work is considered the most comprehensive of the early hydrologic studies within the State of New Mexico.

Co-author and CES Director Elaine Cimino said, "It is our hope today that our congressional delegation is able to earmark much needed funds for clean drinking water to the Espanola Basin Sole Source Aquifer System. We are surprised and delighted that the US EPA recognized and acknowledged the much needed support for clean drinking water standards here in New Mexico."

As a result of the designation, all projects that require federal funding that have the potential to contaminate the designated area will be subject to EPA review. The review could result in either a redesign of the project or a denial of funding. The designation does not impact projects that receive funding from private entities or state and local governments.

Activists question how the designation might affect Department of Energy (DOE) plans to expand plutonium pit production at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). DOE has reported contamination in both the Los Alamos County and Santa Fe drinking water supplies. Public hearings in New Mexico about the DOE plans have been scheduled for early March.

For more information about the sole source aquifer designation, please visit www.environmentalsafeguards.org and click on Water. The petition and the designation materials are available at www.epa.gov by conducting a search for Espanola Basin Sole Source Aquifer System.

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