FIRE, WATER AND THE AFTERMATH:
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.
- 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
- 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