BDD Asks LANL to Ensure Water Quality
In November 2007, the BDD Board sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and LANL asking them to take and fund actions to address LANL-origin contaminants in storm water runoff that flows down Los Alamos and Pueblo Canyons to the Rio Grande, thereby contaminating the BDD Project’s raw water supply.
Specific requests include providing an early notification system that the BDD Project will rely on (a) to stop diversions from the Rio Grande when storm water that may contain LANL-origin contaminants from Los Alamos and Pueblo Canyons is flowing to the Rio Grande; and (b) to resume diversion when the contaminated flows have passed. The BDD Board also has asked LANL to prevent migration of contaminants in storm water and properly monitor the contaminant flows that do occur.
In March 2009, the BDD sent a second letter asking the federal agency that oversees LANL, the U.S. Department of Energy, to consider entering negotiations with the BDD on the remaining, uncompleted action steps. The Department agreed, and negotiations resumed in the Spring of 2009.
In March 2009, the Legislature passed House Memorial 120, requesting a Memorandum of Understanding to address contamination emanating from LANL so the BDD Project could ensure safe drinking water to its customers.
In October 2009, the BDD Board sent a letter again requesting a Memorandum of Understanding that remained unaddressed with the BDD Project describing the DOE and LANL commitments with regard to the six action steps, along with an update on the status of the six action steps as of September 2009.
In January 2010, the BDD Board sent a letter to the Assistant Secretary of the United States Department of Energy requesting assistance and intervention related to the delay of a Memorandum of Agreement for the early warning notification system, LANL data sharing and gauge maintenance.
In January 2010, the Legislature introduced House Memorial 21 to address the same concerns and issues, including a specific timeline for reporting progress on the Memorandum of Agreement.
In February 2010, the Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy responded directing LANL to formally initiate discussions regarding the scope of the Memorandum of Agreement and to establish a schedule for completion of discussions.
- The formal Memorandum of Agreement has multiple goals and would formally set forth specific commitments including cost sharing, operation responsibilities, maintenance, sample testing and a completion schedule for an early warning system. These terms would be contained in an agreement, or contract, and would contain provisions for non-performance.
BDD Project Board and Staff are continuing to work with DOE/LANL, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) to develop mutually satisfactory responses to the BDD Board’s request for DOE/LANL actions.
BDD Board And DOE Agree Regarding Responses to Six Specific Action Steps Requested by the BDD Board in November 2007
The following is a progress report as of the date of the BDD Board’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The MOU reconciles the positions of the BDD Board and the U.S. DOE regarding the six action steps. The MOU represents the BDD Board’s acceptance and recognition of progress made by DOE, the state and federal environmental agencies that regulate LANL’s environmental contamination, and the BDD Board, particularly with regard to the first two action steps. The MOU contains the DOE’s commitments to finish or provide funds for the BDD Board to finish incomplete action steps and the BDD Board’s acceptance of those commitments.
As of May 2010, an update on the current status of these action steps is as follows:
|1. Stop migration of LANL contaminants to the Rio Grande and to groundwater through the construction of additional
sediment barrier and containment systems, improved waste treatment and disposal practices, stabilization and cleanup of sediment beds and banks in the Rio Grande tributary canyons that have received LANL waste discharges, and other appropriate management actions.
The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), under applicable federal and state law, has ordered DOE to implement numerous improvements to reduce contaminated storm water runoff to the Rio Grande, before the BDD begins operations. Most of these improvements are complete. Similar Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements are not yet in place. The EPA has stayed the NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit requirements, since they are under an appeal that seeks to make the requirements more stringent. As enacted or underway, both agencies’ requirements include performance monitoring and subsequent preventive actions where additional monitoring indicates additional steps are necessary to meet explicit and stringent limitations. These regulatory requirements satisfy the BDD Board’s request for actions to stop the migration of contaminants. No significant actions have yet resulted from this request with regard to the groundwater pathway. However, the groundwater pathway is the main focus of the NMED Consent order. The City of Santa Fe Water Division , as owner and operator of the Buckman well field, is working with DOE and LANL to improve both the groundwater monitoring near the well field and the understanding of potential groundwater flow pathways for the transport of contamination in regional groundwater flows.
|2. Properly monitor the transport of legacy contaminants (contaminants from the 1940s-1960s) in both the surface water and groundwater flow systems, including implementation of all recommendations contained in a report entitled “Plans and Practices for Groundwater Protection at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Final Report (2007),” published by the National Academy of Sciences with especially high priority placed on improvements in monitoring the transport of contaminants in the regional groundwater flow toward the Buckman well field and implementation of the recommendations addressing surface water and transport of contaminants from LANL property.Thorough monitoring is required by the NMED consent order and the EPA stormwater permit regulatory requirements described under Action Step 1 and the Early Notification System, Action Step 4. Three separate monitoring programs conducted in the Rio Grande in 2008 and 2009 did not find LANL-origin contamination in Rio Grande water at Buckman or at other locations.
LANL also has undertaken significant voluntary monitoring for a comprehensive group of contaminants from paired samples collected every other month at Otowi Bridge, which is upstream from the mouths of canyons that drain LANL, and at the Buckman Diversion site. Two years of these samples have not found any LANL-origin contaminants.
NMED’s DOE Oversight Bureau during the summer 2009 collected samples from the Rio Grande at five locations when stormy weather caused the water level in the Rio Grande to rise. None of these automatically collected samples were taken at a time when water and sediment were flowing from Los Alamos Canyon to the Rio Grande . NMED’s April 2010 news release reports on this study, which did not find LANL-origin contaminants at any of the measured locations.
NMED’s Surface Water Bureau in 2009 conducted an intensive water quality survey of the northern Rio Grande upstream of Cochiti Reservoir. NMED analyzed each sample for the radionuclide screening parameters “gross alpha” and “gross beta.” Both of the screening parameters are regulated by the federal safe drinking water. The BDD Project planned to pay for analysis of individual radionuclides if either of the gross radioactivity parameters exceeded levels allowed by EPA drinking water quality regulations. None of these samples exceeded these levels.
A state DOE Oversight Bureau sampling program during the summer of 2008 did collected Rio Grande samples upstream of LANL and Buckman that contained gross alpha levels above allowable drinking water levels. Naturally occurring uranium may be contributing to the gross alpha levels measured. Regardless, the BDD water treatment plant will be very effective in removing radionuclides that generate the alpha particles measured by the gross alpha activity screening test.
In the aggregate, these different monitoring programs adequately address the BDD Board’s requested action to “properly monitor” transport of contaminants in surface water.
Groundwater pathway monitoring has been the focus of the NMED consent order. Groundwater contamination issues are being addressed by the City of Santa Fe Water Division , that owns and operates the Buckman well field. Under the consent order, DOE will install additional groundwater monitoring to provide an early warning of groundwater contamination at Buckman. DOE will evaluate existing monitoring wells in the immediate vicinity of the Rio Grande and the western area of the Buckman well field. Intensive water level monitoring of different wells in conjunction with Los Alamos County and Buckman well fields pumping may provide additional knowledge of the complex hydrogeologic groundwater flow system.
|3. Measure the radioactive and toxic contamination of buried sediments containing higher concentrations of post World War II LANL legacy contaminants now buried in the slough (side channel) upstream of the BDD diversion site to determine whether the BDD, as currently aligned, will intersect areas with elevated concentrations of these contaminants and help the BDD determine if minor realignment of project facilities could avoid these areas.NMED and the BDD Board designed, funded and completed this work in 2008. The U.S. Forest Service, which required this work, approved it.|
|4. Provide an early notification system so the BDD can temporarily stop diversions of any water from the Rio Grande when the Rio Grande is expected to contain elevated levels of contaminants of LANL origin.The memorandum of understand provides that DOE will rebuild three stream gages in Los Alamos and Pueblo Canyons and transmit the information to the BDD Project control room in near-real-time. LANL, in cooperation with the BDD Project Manager, has secured the written permission of the Pueblo of San Ildefonso to rebuild the LANL gage located on Pueblo land near the Rio Grande . DOE also is constructing new stream gages on both Los Alamos Canyon and Pueblo Canyon , above their confluence. DOE’s work includes wireless communication of the gage data to the Buckman Direct Diversion control room and installation of automatic samplers that will collect samples at times of storm water runoff flow at these gages. DOE will provide the sample results to the BDD Project where they will be posted on the BDD web site. The BDD Project Manager has asked DOE/LANL to provide additional features for the early notification system. These remain in negotiation. Nonetheless, the agreements to date represent a significant step toward completion of the Early Notification System. Design is ongoing. Representatives of LANL have stated that their goal is to complete the Early Notification System design, construction and communications by October 31, 2009; however, no discussions have been held regarding the additional Early Notification System features requested by BDD Board and Staff.|
|5. Monitor LANL Contaminants in BDD Diversions, Sand Return, Residuals, and Drinking Water.
DOE has committed to providing a grant of funds that will pay the BDD Projects cost of this monitoring. The BDD Project will collect samples for analysis monthly of the water diverted by the BDD Project from the Rio Grande, the sand return to the Rio Grande, and finished drinking water. These samples will be analyzed in a certified private laboratory. The results will be reported on the BDD web site. DOE/LANL and BDD Project Representatives discussed this requested action during reinvigorated negotiations held in spring 2009. BDD Project representatives offered the alternate, simpler request per the title above and explained that these analyses would not be required or needed but for LANL historical waste discharges. One to two years of initial monitoring is required for quality assurance, safe drinking water compliance, and public confidence.
|6. Provide funding for the BDD Board to retain independent peer review by qualified persons with regard to matters of LANL-origin contamination of the public drinking water resources of Santa Fe County and the City of Santa Fe.
The BDD Project has received a $200,000 grant from DOE to fund the independent peer review, which started in 2009 and will conclude in the fall 2010. The Independent Peer Review includes preparation of a public draft report in August 2010, a public meeting to present a summary of the peer review and receive public comment, and final report in November 2010 that will include responses to comments.
More information is available on the BDD web site under the Independent Peer Review link on the Water Quality page.
The BDD Board and Staff will continue working with LANL and the NMED on these issues and will provide updates as the status of these action steps changes.
N.M. House Memorial and BDD Board Chair Statement
On March 18, 2009, the New Mexico House of Representatives Energy and Natural Resource Committee unanimously passed a Memorial sponsored by Representative Brian Egolf urging the National Nuclear Security Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy to work actively with the Buckman Direct Diversion Board and the Los Alamos National Laboratory to ensure the safety of Santa Fe’s drinking water. BDD Board Chair Virginia Vigil issued comments on the Memorial.