Staff Directory

INTERA Supports Water Authority in Its Efforts to Promote Aquifer Clean-Up

In this article in the Albuquerque Journal, Bernalilo County Commissioner, Maggie Hart Stebbins, writes this opinon piece, which includes a reference to INTERA's support:

 

In my role as County Commissioner and member of the Water Authority board, I am often asked what action the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority is taking on the Kirtland Air Force Base jet fuel spill now threatening Water Authority wells. I hope I can offer some clarity about the Water Authority’s actions on that issue over the past several years.

Although we may wish otherwise, it is important to understand that the Water Authority has no regulatory authority over the Air Force.

Under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, that responsibility is given to the New Mexico Environment Department. The Authority is a “stakeholder” and entitled to provide input, which we do on a regular basis; however, we have no power to force either the KAFB contractor or NMED to incorporate our recommendations into the work plans or final decisions about how the remediation will take place.

Despite that limitation, we have taken concrete action on a number of fronts.

Since 2008, the Water Authority has been conducting its own voluntary monthly sampling/testing of nearby drinking water production wells in the Burton and Ridgecrest Well Fields. That includes monthly sampling for ethylene dibromide (EDB) and aviation gas/jet fuel constituents, in addition to the biennial sampling required under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

To date, there have been no detections of contaminants related to the fuel spill.

We have also contracted with the U.S. Geological Service to install our own independent early warning well system to alert the Water Authority should contamination reach the zone of the aquifer from which our drinking water is produced. That “well nest” is located between the plume and our production wells.

There has been no detection of spill-related contaminants at that site.

In 2010, I recommended that the Water Authority engage an expert environmental firm to evaluate the progress and effectiveness of the Air Force contractor’s investigation and cleanup activities. The Water Authority’s contractor, INTERA, and water utility staff have evaluated every release of data made available by KAFB. They have provided to the Water Authority, NMED and Air Force officials analysis of the data; documented concerns about the status of the remediation; and offered recommendations for improving the process.

Over the past five years, the Water Authority board has heard at least 10 presentations by KAFB and its contractor as well as NMED. Those meetings have been opportunities to challenge the contractor on the pace of the cleanup and bring critical information to the public.

Given the importance of the Burton and Ridgecrest wells to the municipal water supply, the Water Authority and INTERA recently presented a strategy to contain the contamination before it ever reaches production wells – using methods that can be implemented in a matter of months, not years.

We are awaiting feedback from the Air Force and NMED on that strategy, which we think is a viable option for protecting the local water supply while final remediation is still in the planning stages.

I have followed closely the progress on this issue because it affects not only the residents of my commission district, but the future water supply for all of Bernalillo County. I am committed to making sure that the jet fuel chemicals are not allowed to enter the drinking water system, and I will continue to work for a remediation process that ensures that contamination is contained and removed before it reaches our wells.

Any proposal by KAFB’s contractor that allows the contamination to reach our production wells is unacceptable. The burden of remediation – and the long-term consequences of the spill – should not be placed on the ratepayers or on our community’s drought reserve.

Bernalillo County residents rely on the Water Authority to represent their interests where the fuel spill is concerned. Our policy positions and actions clearly demonstrate our commitment to promoting an acceptable solution to this potentially disastrous problem.

Maggie Hart Stebbins is vice-chair of the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority.