CCNS and Amigos Bravos recently filed appeals with the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management about their decisions that allow the proposed Buckman Direct Diversion Project to go forward without addressing drinking water quality issues. The proposed project will divert San Juan-Chama and native Rio Grande water from the Rio Grande to supplement existing drinking water supplies for residents of the City of Santa Fe, Santa Fe County and Las Campanas, a private community.
CCNS and Amigos Bravos raised concerns about the transport of radioactive, toxic and hazardous contaminants from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) to the proposed diversion site through ground and surface water. Known pathways for transporting contaminants include springs discharging along the Rio Grande below LANL and surface water draining through the canyons to the river. Specific concerns were related to contaminants created during the Cold War nuclear weapons operations at LANL, which flow through the canyons and discharge to the Rio Grande above the proposed diversion site.
The issues were raised in comments to the draft environmental impact statement for the project in early 2005. The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management dismissed the threat of LANL contaminants to the proposed diversion site as "speculative." The federal agencies stated that the diverted water would be treated to meet federal drinking water standards, but did not discuss how LANL contaminants would be detected and removed from the water and the associated costs. There was no discussion regarding increased health risks that may result from the diversion of water containing LANL contaminants.
Nevertheless, LANL states that runoff from storms and melting snow can "redistribute sediment in a streambed to locations far downstream from where a release or spill [of a radioactive, toxic or hazardous material] occurs." In 2006, the Department of Energy reported detections of radionuclides in the Buckman Well field, where Santa Fe pumps about 40% of its drinking water.
Last fall, the Buckman Direct Diversion Board, which oversees the implementation and operation of the proposed diversion project, sent a letter to LANL asking it to "stop [the] migration of LANL contaminants to the Rio Grande and to groundwater."
Bruce Frederick, of the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, represents CCNS and Amigos Bravos. The non-governmental organizations argued that it is reasonably foreseeable for LANL contaminants to be diverted from the Rio Grande by the proposed diversion project and that the federal agencies did not take the required "hard look" at the potential impacts as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
Brian Shields, Executive Director of Amigos Bravos, said, "I can think of few things more important than to protect a community's drinking water. There remain huge unanswered questions regarding the quality of the water that will reach people's taps from the Buckman diversion project. In a show of hubris, Forest Service and BLM decision-makers chose to ignore the overwhelming evidence of pollution from the Los Alamos National Laboratory migrating to the point of diversion. This appeal is about protecting people's right to know what will be in our drinking water."