.News Update 5/24/06

Citizen Groups Send Clean Water Act Notice of Intent to Sue to LANL

Citizen Groups Send Clean Water Act Notice of Intent to Sue to LANL

Six community groups recently gathered on the banks of the Rio Grande in Albuquerque to announce the filing of a 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue the Department of Energy and the Regents of the University of California for violations of the Clean Water Act at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).

LANL Water Watch, a network of community groups composed of Amigos Bravos, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, the Embudo Valley Environmental Monitoring Group, the Partnership for Earth Spirituality, Rio Grande Restoration and Tewa Women United, filed the notice. Many other community and non-governmental organizations are supporting this action. The Western Environmental Law Center, which is located in Taos, is representing LANL Water Watch.

All water is connected. However, the Clean Water Act only protects surface water. The four main violations alleged by LANL Water Watch include LANLŐs failure to monitor sites, failure to implement effective pollution control measures at over 1,400 industrial discharge sites, failure to report violations to regulators and making unauthorized discharges. These violations could result in fines in the billions of dollars.

Kathy Sanchez, director of Tewa Women United, one of the participating LANL Water Watch groups, said, "There are more than 1,400 documented contaminant sites at LANL, and every time it rains or snows, these contaminants move through our canyons and springs to the Rio Grande. LANL needs to take immediate and effective action to protect our waters." Based on LANL documents, the groups assert that contaminants are moving from LANL to the Rio Grande. Recent findings of fast-moving contaminants at the Rio Grande springs indicate travel times of 26 years or less. These contaminants include perchlorate and tritium.

Earlier this year, the New Mexico Department of Health issued its first ever "do not eat" fish advisory for PCB-contaminated catfish for sections of the Rio Grande below LANL. Additionally, high levels of hexavalent chromium above state and federal drinking water standards have been found in a LANL test well. The chromium contamination is outside of the scope of the 60-day Notice because it has been found in groundwater and not in surface water.

LANL Water Watch is particularly concerned about the impending drinking water diversion projects in Albuquerque and Santa Fe that will provide drinking water for both metropolitan areas. These concerns include impacts to public health and the high cost of treating contaminated water. There are many questions about whether the water can be treated to remove all the contamination in the river water. Ratepayers will pay the water treatment costs. Furthermore, LANL's lack of proactive waste management practices have threatened traditional fishing and farming communities that are dependent upon the Rio Grande for their sustenance, cultural activities and livelihood.

Steve Harris, Executive Director of Rio Grande Restoration and a LANL Water Watch participant, said, "What really concerns me is not so much the level of toxins that are there right now, but what may be coming in the future. My question is, who is going to take care of this and will we even know."

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