LANL, NMED and Citizens Groups Take To the River

The Annual White Rock Canyon Surveillance trip will take place this week where Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and citizen observers, including Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS) and the Embudo Valley Environmental Monitoring Group (EVE MG), float the river and take samples of the springs that feed the Rio Grande. The trip begins at Otowi Bridge and ends at Cochiti Dam.

On past rafting trips CCNS, EVE MG, NMED and LANL have detected contaminants, including high explosives and tritium, which are associated with LANL operations. In addition, other contamination is showing up in the Rio Grande. Polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, have been detected in White Rock Canyon at concentrations that caused NMED to issue the first Do Not Eat order for fish. NMED recently reported plutonium detections in the slough along the east side of the river.

Currently, the City and County of Santa Fe are planning to divert water from the Rio Grande for drinking. The proposal, called the Buckman Direct Diversion Project, would allow the City to rest the Buckman Well field, where approximately 40% of the City's water is currently pumped out of the regional aquifer.

The proposed diversion site is located across the Rio Grande from LANL and two miles downstream from where contaminants from early LANL operations are discharged to the river. The City states that its filtration system will be able to deal with the LANL contaminants, but there are the many difficulties associated with filtering the contamination created by nuclear weapons research and development.

There are over 18 million cubic feet of waste buried on mesa tops and canyon bottoms at LANL, which are in the process of traveling toward the Rio Grande. LANL also dumps liquid waste into canyons that flow intermittently to the river. These wastes are transported through surface water to the groundwater and have been detected in springs which feed the Rio Grande.

Higher levels of contaminants have been detected in springs further south of the proposed diversion site, such as high explosives. LANL's own computer modeling shows that the pumping at the Buckman Wellfield draws LANL contaminants towards it. It is not possible to predict where the contaminants will show up while the Buckman Wellfield is rested and the City uses water from the Diversion Project. The changed groundwater flow may cause greater impacts upstream from the diversion site.

Joni Arends, of CCNS, who has organized previous rafting trips, said. "LANL contaminants should not be in our water in the first place. Citizen oversight is essential to assure that they are properly addressed. Clean up must become the priority at LANL and the City must do more to protect our drinking water."

This week's CCNS News Update was brought to you by Plants of the Southwest.

For more information about the Buckman diversion project click here

For more information about citizen monitoring click here

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