.News Update 01/25/08

EPA Hearing about Putting Sediments from the Buckman Diversion Project Back into the Rio Grande

January 25, 2008

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has developed a draft permit that will allow the City of Santa Fe to pump up to 1.3 million gallons a day of sand and other sediments from the proposed Buckman Direct Diversion Project into the Rio Grande. EPA will hold a public information session and hearing on the proposed permit on Monday, January 28.

The proposed Buckman Project will have the capacity to divert 8,730 acre feet per year of San Juan-Chama and native water from the Rio Grande. The diversion point is about 15 miles northwest of the City of Santa Fe.

The City needs the permit because the Rio Grande contains sediment. The sand-sized sediment must be removed from the water as close to the river as possible so that it doesn't damage the pipelines and pumps that will be used to transport the water to the treatment facility.

The government agencies looked at several options for disposal of the sediments. One was to haul it to the Caja del Rio landfill, which was estimated to be about 12% of the overall project cost for operations and maintenance. The other was to return the sediments to the Rio Grande, which would cost about one-quarter of the amount needed to truck two loads per day to the landfill.

One of the city's contractors with CDM, Kelly Collins, expressed concern about this permit at the October 2006 meeting of the New Mexico Network for Women in Science and Engineering. Collins said, "Arguably the most controversial of the permits is the [EPA permit] for the project."

Activists, including CCNS, have determined that it is premature for EPA to issue a permit at this time. Last spring, the Department of Energy Oversight Bureau within the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) reported finding plutonium in an old dried up river channel north of the proposed diversion site. The plutonium, attached to small sediments, was transported down through the canyon systems at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and deposited in the area of the proposed diversion site between the 1940s and 1960s. The City, NMED, Department of Energy and LANL have been developing a sampling plan to determine the extent of the contamination, but have not yet begun the actual work. Activists state that EPA should wait until the sampling results are available for public review before moving forward with the permit.

Elana Sue St. Pierre, a Santa Fe health care professional, said, "If our government agency that's meant to protect us goes through with this project based on insufficient information about the contamination, it's not a safe place to live."

The Monday, January 28 public hearing will be held at the Santa Fe Community College in the Jemez Rooms. An information meeting will start at 6:00 p.m. and the hearing at 7:00 p.m.

The EPA contact person is Diane Smith. She may be reached by phone at (214) 665-2145 or by email at smith.diane@epa.gov. Written comments are due on February 11, 2008.

For more information about the draft permit, go to http://www.epa.gov/region6/6wq/npdes/publicnotices/nm/nmdraft.htm.

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