Communities for Clean Water (CCW) was formally organized in 2006 after several community organizations joined forces to address water contamination at LANL. As of January 2015 CCW Council members include Amigos Bravos, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS), Honor Our Pueblo Existence (HOPE), the New Mexico Acequia Association, Partnership for Earth Spirituality and Tewa Women United. CCW brings together these separate organizations in order to have a collective and powerful impact on protecting and restoring water quality downstream and downwind from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).
While many of these organizations had worked independently and together on water contamination issues prior to 2006, (see CCW’s Roots, below) the need to strengthen this work became very clear after the catastrophic 47,000-acre Cerro Grande fire that burned on and around Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) site in 2000, increasing the release of toxic materials from the site into the Río Grande watershed. The Las Conchas Fire of 2011, which burned 156,000 acres adjacent to LANL, further increased urgency and concern about stormwater runoff and the release of water contaminants into the Rio Grande watershed.
Following the Cerro Grande Fire in 2000, CCNS organized a one-day conference attended by over 450 people called, “Fire, Water and the Aftermath: The Cerro Grande Fire and its Effect on the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo Watershed.” Soon afterward, the Rio Grande Watershed Initiative (RGWI) was created to investigate, through independent technical means, the effects that LANL operations were having on the water quality of the Rio Grande.
In the next few years, evidence began building that toxic contaminants from LANL were escaping from the Laboratory’s boundaries. In October 2002 CCNS discovered a new Rio Grande spring that the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) subsequently found that was contaminated with uranium, nitrate, gross alpha radiation and radioactive tritium at the same levels as a LANL test well located about four miles to the northwest, indicating a groundwater connection between the two.
Also in 2002, CCNS released Early Warning: A Radioactive Rio Grande, a report by technical collaborators, The Radio Activist Campaign (TRAC). Based on the samples collected by TRAC, low levels of radioactive cesium-137 were found in a spring that feeds the Rio Grande. The finding prompted the NMED to develop a new experimental method for sampling very low levels of cesium in surface water.
Two years later, an investigative report by technical expert George Rice entitled, “New Mexico’s Right to Know: The Potential for Groundwater Contaminants from LANL to Reach the Rio Grande” clearly confirmed that it is possible for groundwater to have transported contaminants from LANL to the Rio Grande during the 61 years that LANL had existed, and that contaminants from LANL had reached the Rio Grande. Rice also found that such transport could occur from surface water to groundwater in a decade or less.
In that same year (2004) under the umbrella of New Mexicans for Sustainable Energy & Effective Stewardship (NM SEES) – a project of the New Mexico Community Foundation – three working groups were formed: The Sandia Working Group to monitor pollution issues at the Sandia National Laboratory, The WIPP Working Group to monitor waste disposal activities at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, and the LANL Working Group, to monitor nuclear weapons and pollution issues at LANL. Initially the LANL Working Group included Amigos Bravos, CCNS, the Embudo Valley Environmental Monitoring Group, and Honor Our Pueblo Existence (H.O.P.E.) The LANL Working Group established “LANL Water Watch,” and the important work of monitoring LANL’s own pollution monitoring efforts continued, finding numerous problems, among which was inaccurate information as a result of faulty sample collections. For example, in one instance where a spring had poison oak growing near it, LANL personnel avoided collecting at the source, citing the hazard of contact with poison oak, when they could easily have clipped the plant back with their clippers and /or worn the long-sleeved shirts that were in their packs for that very purpose. Instead, they collected downstream, where they had to know the sample would be diluted. It was clear that LANL monitoring and sampling had to be followed closely.
From 2004 to 2006, Amigos Bravos and CCNS undertook an analysis of surface water contamination at LANL and published a report entitled Historic and Current Discharges from Los Alamos National Laboratory: Analysis and Recommendations.
In this same two-year period, these organizations undertook an 18-month planning process to create protocols for working together as a coordinated network that respected cultural differences and organizational integrity, and the group’s name was changed to Communities for Clean Water (CCW) Simultaneously, hundreds of signatures were gathered in the many communities for CCW’s Shared Values Statement, and information was collected for filing a Clean Water Act 60-Day Notice of Appeal Intent to Sue, and to push the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue an individual stormwater permit for LANL.
Image credit: Gary Nored