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LANL Groundwater

Overview – Ground Water at LANL

The Pajarito Plateau, where Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is located, was formed by volcanic activity in the Jemez Mountain Range. As a result, there are three zones of ground water below LANL – the alluvial, or shallow zone; the intermediate, or middle zone; and the regional aquifer (the sole drinking water source for Los Alamos County and LANL). Ground water can discharge at the springs along the Río Grande.Nuclear Facility LANL

Fast moving contaminants, such as chromium, perchlorate, and radioactive tritium, have been found in all three zones at levels exceeding standards. Los Alamos County shut down one of its drinking water wells because of concerns about perchlorate pollution. This fact sheet provides an overview of three discharge permits to be issued by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) that regulate discharges of treated industrial water to ground water at LANL.

Discharge Permit (DP) 1132 for the 52-year-old Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility (RLWTF), regulates radioactive liquid waste from the research, development and manufacturing of nuclear weapons at LANL. The NMED has never regulated the discharge. The permit, when issued, would regulate discharges of up to 40,000 gallons per day (gpd) to ground water from an outfall in Mortandad Canyon; a gas-generated Mechanical Evaporator System (MES); and two solar evaporator tanks (SET), each containing 380,000 gallons of treated liquids. 

Discharge Permit (DP) 1793 would allow for the land application of 350,000 gpd of treated (previously contaminated) groundwater from all on-site treatment and disposal facilities. It is an umbrella permit for individual work plans to treat chromium, high explosives (e.g., RDX) pump test waters, remediation production water, etc. The first work plan that LANL submitted to NMED for approval was rejected because LANL did not provide the information required in the permit.

Sole Source Aquifers in the Espanola basin Aquifer SystemCommunities for Clean Water (CCW) submitted detailed comments to the draft permit and requested a public hearing. In July, the NMED Secretary denied CCW’s request for a public hearing. With representation from the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, CCW is appealing the permit to the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission.

Discharge Permit (DP) 1835 would allow the reinjection of 680,000 gpd of treated groundwater to the regional drinking water aquifer, which has special protections as the sole source of drinking water for over 50 percent of the people living in the area. A draft permit has not been released for public comment.

The three discharge permits would allow over 1.1 million gpd to be land applied or discharged across the LANL site in the arid southwest with no requirement for reuse.

If you would like to participate in these processes, please email Steve Huddleson at Steven.Huddleson@state.nm.us and ask to be placed on the LANL facility mailing list for DP-1132, DP-1793 and DP-1835.

Communities for Clean Water (CCW) has prepared the following comments on various groundwater permits at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).

 

Comments on the groundwater permits were generated with substantial technical support from CCW member organization Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety.

Top image credit: WINR

LANL Surface Water

Overview – Surface Water at LANL

Many of the surface waters (rivers and streams) that flow through Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) are not meeting water quality standards for contaminants such as gross alpha radiation, heavy metals, and PCBs. This fact sheet provides an overview of two processes that regulate surface water pollution at LANL.

The Individual Storm Water Permit (IP), issued by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Clean Water Act, controls storm water pollution from more than 400 contaminated sites at LANL.

  • Sites included in the IP have the potential to release radioactive, toxic and hazardous pollutants into the Río Grande watershed.
  • PCB contamination at levels thousands of times above the human health standard has been documented in storm water running off of LANL, and at one site at levels as high 40,000 times over the standard.
  • The cities of Santa Fe and Albuquerque divert Río Grande water for drinking downstream of LANL’s discharges.

IP Requirements:

  • LANL is required to monitor discharges from all 405 sites covered by the permit and install controls to stop the migration of pollution downstream
  • The permit requires LANL to establish and maintain a website devoted to the IP. Go to http://www.lanl.gov/ and click on the “Community and Environment Tab” and then on “Individual Permit”.
  • LANL is required to update Site Discharge Pollution Prevention Plans (SDPPPs), which outline control methods and monitoring for all sites, every year by April 30th. LANL is also required to submit Annual Reports and Compliance Status Reports to EPA. All reports are posted on the IP website.

What is Storm Water?

Storm water runoff occurs when precipitation from rain or snowmelt flows over the ground. Stormwater can pick up debris, chemicals, dirt, and other pollutants and flow into a storm sewer system or directly to a lake, stream, river, or wetland.

The IP expired on March 31, 2014 and is being administratively continued until a new permit is issued. A new draft of the permit was released for public comment in March of 2015. Communities for Clean Water (CCW) submitted extensive comments. As of September 2015 a new final permit has not been issued.

Urban Storm Water Pollution – MS4 Permit

CCW LANL

Map of Surface Water at LANL

Monitoring in and around LANL has shown that urbanized areas (areas that are developed and covered by buildings and pavement) discharge pollution into the Río Grande Watershed. The EPA requires urbanized areas that are shown to contribute to downstream water quality problems obtain permit coverage under the MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) permit program.

In March of 2015 EPA, in response to a petition by New Mexico water advocacy group Amigos Bravos, made a preliminary determination that urban storm water discharges from LANL were causing and/or contributing to water quality exceedences in downstream streams and needed MS4 permit coverage. As of September 2015 a final determination has not been made.

If EPA makes a final determination that MS4 coverage is required, a draft permit will be released for public comment. For more information contact Brent Larsen at EPA at Larsen.Brent@epa.gov.

New Mexico Water Quality Regulations – 20.6.2 NMAC

In November of 2017 the New Mexico Environment Department petitioned the Water Quality Control Commission requesting changes to the state’s water quality regulations as 20.6.2 NMAC. Some of the Environment Department’s proposed changes, like removing the 5-year limit on water quality variances and allowing variances to be issued for the life of a facility, would substantially decrease water protection and public participation opportunities. Other changes proposed by the Environment Department would strengthen water quality standards. CCW submitted comments on their proposed changes.

Communities for Clean Water (CCW) has prepared the following comments on various surface water permits at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).

CCW Youth Council visits the State Capitol in Santa Fe

On Thursday Feb 19th, 2015, the Council traveled to the State Capitol in Santa Fe to take a guided tour of the Roundhouse and see the Legislature in session. They learned about how bills become laws and the specific of what happens in different parts of the State Capitol. The Council members were excited to see the Govenor’s office and get a detailed understanding of Government in action.

CCW Youth Council – Puye Cliffs and LANL Site Tour – 2014

On June 6th, 2014, the CCW Youth Council toured the Puye Cliff Dwellings, the ancestral home of the people of Santa Clara Pueblo. With a guide, the youth learned about the history of this sacred site. A short drive away was LANL, where an engineer showed the Council a few examples of current efforts at stormwater control.