A community advocacy newspaper for northern New Mexico
Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, NM 87521
Op Ed: It's Time to Hold Los Alamos National Laboratory Accountable By Kalliroi Matsakis, Media Network Coordinator, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety
Editorial: Who Should Decide How Best to Manage Our Water? By Kay Matthews
San Miguel del Vado Adjudication: A Template for Injustice By Mark Schiller (The research for this article was underwritten by a stipend from the Office of the State Historian)
By Kalliroi Matsakis, Media Network Coordinator, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety
Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and the Department of Energy (DOE) try to portray LANL as an institution apart from the rest of the world devoted to pure science. However, it is much more than that. LANL is the arm of national and international nuclear weapons policy, and thanks to their environmental practices, the pollutants they produce are a very real and tangible presence in our soil, our air, and our water.
In New Mexico's arid climate, as the quantity of water dwindles, its quality becomes increasingly important. It is vital that what water we do have be clean and pure. In the drought cycle, one wet year does not mean that the problem of contamination disappears through dilution. The water table will lower once again, and the contaminants will concentrate. During a wet year, the contaminants that have been left in the soil are flushed through the LANL canyons and into the Rio Grande.
Indications of the tangible impacts of LANL activities on our water supplies have already begun to surface. For instance, hexavalent chromium has been found in a well used to provide information about the regional aquifer. Hexavalent chromium is the contaminant in the movie Erin Brockovich. It interferes with thyroid function, which is integral to the function of the entire body. For instance, if a pregnant woman is exposed to hexavalent chromium when the thyroid of the fetus is developing, the fetus as a whole will be harmed.
LANL discovered hexavalent chromium in the regional aquifer at four times the state drinking water standard in January 2004. By the time an official report was submitted to the state Environment Department almost two years later, the levels had doubled, making them eight times our drinking water standard. This fast moving contaminant continues to travel. We still do not have accurate information regarding its direction and extent. We do know that five drinking water wells surround the contaminated well. Further, it is possible that this contamination could reach the Buckman Wellfield, where Santa Fe gets 40% of its drinking water. The total chromium levels at the Buckman Tank are rising, and increased five-fold between 2004 and 2005.
LANL must be held accountable for its past practices. We must demand full clean up and remediation of contaminated sites. One of the proposed cleanup plans consists of simply covering contaminated sites in such a way that it would be within health standards for people to work 40 hours a week in an industrial job on the site. This level of cleanup does not account for flooding, erosion, or run off. It assumes that the contamination will simply stay exactly where it is. However, water from rain and melting snow will run over this contaminated soil and seep through the earth into our water supplies. This cleanup plan does not allow for the possibility of a future change in land use, not even one so slight as to account for childcare being provided on site. In order to allow the future the flexibility it deserves and demands, the land must be as safe and clean as possible.
Perhaps even more importantly, these practices cannot continue. We can learn from LANL's mistakes and apply a preventative principle when deciding what the future of LANL will be. The consequences of the possible activities must be fully considered before allowing them. And then, the consequences that operations may have on the health, environment and the communities in New Mexico and the world must be used as the basis for deciding what can be done. Critical for prevention is accepting uncertainty and trusting doubt. If we do not know what will occur, then we must wait until we do. This, however, is not the approach taken by DOE.
DOE intends to go forward and expand the activities at LANL. They have recently released a draft Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement (SWEIS) for LANL. The draft SWEIS lays out the planned programs at LANL for the next five years and evaluates the environmental impacts of those programs. DOE seeks to quadruple the level of plutonium pit production from 20 to 80 pits per year, which will nearly double the amount of transuranic (plutonium contaminated) waste produced. A plutonium pit is the core of a nuclear bomb, such as the one the United States dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, but far more powerful. In the draft SWEIS, DOE rejects out of hand the possibility of changing LANL's mission to one focused on life-affirming research, such as green renewable energy and sophisticated cleanup technologies. Perhaps most disturbing, DOE asserts that there will be no significant impacts from their planned operations.
In the draft SWEIS, DOE does not consider a preventative principle. Instead, it has decided to increase nuclear weapons production at LANL, and has therefore compiled the required documentation to support that decision. The documentation is not predicated on accepted science and is based on studies that have not been finalized. The analysis of risks to human health relies on the draft Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) public health assessment. This assessment was rejected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and never finalized because of lack of funds. In comments about the draft assessment last summer, the EPA stated, "ATSDR may have been overly conservative in their risk assessment approach and makes a blanket statement that there is no problem. ATSDR should redo their risk assessment to reduce conservatism and not assume that there is no risk." An inaccurate, incomplete and inadequate public health assessment misdirects policy, undermines pollution prevention and thereby increases the risk to human health and the environment.
The draft SWEIS was released before either the risk assessment for LANL's low-level waste dump at Area G or the 2006 seismic hazard study were completed. Even more scientifically unsound than this draft "public health assessment" is LANL's belief that referencing any draft document at all is good science. It is impossible to accurately determine the environmental and health impacts for future operations at LANL based on incomplete analysis. The draft SWEIS should be pulled until a scientifically and technically defensible public health assessment, Area G risk assessment and seismic hazard report are written and made available for public review and comment. Only then may these documents be used as a basis for decisions.
The environmental practices of LANL must be changed. Entrenched habits of environmental negligence and disregard for those living in the surrounding area cannot be allowed to continue. LANL must be held accountable for the contamination it has caused.
Below is the Shared Values Statement for LANL Water Watch, a network of diverse organizations who have come together to protect our water and hold LANL accountable. Please join the effort by signing the statement and returning it to Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety at the address below.
SHARED VALUES STATEMENT
All people and our communities are intricately tied to the health of rivers, acequias and other waters. Historical and on-going activities at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) threaten our cultural, spiritual and ecological survival. To ensure the good health of watersheds downstream and downwind from LANL and the good health of the Río Grande to provide safe drinking water, clean water for irrigation and pure water for sacred ceremony now and in the future, we acknowledge and assert the following:
1. All people that live downstream and downwind from LANL require and have a right to clean water for drinking, sacred ceremony, growing food, raising animals, recreating, and overall wellbeing.
2. Traditional, indigenous cultures that live downstream and downwind from LANL require and have a right to pure water for sacred ceremony.
3. Wildlife and ecosystems living downstream and downwind from LANL need and depend upon clean water for their survival.
4. Healthy communities require clean rivers, groundwater, and watersheds to achieve a strong economy and sustainable future.
5. Our local, state, and federal government agencies have a duty to protect the public health and welfare by setting and enforcing laws and regulations that protect water resources downwind and downstream from LANL.
6. Healthy communities and ecosystems require clean, innovative, and life-affirming science and technology that will benefit the economy, the future, and the health of all.
7. We recognize and respect that flowing water does not seek or uphold political, social, cultural or economical boundaries.
Based on these values we assert that historic toxic waste must be cleaned up now to protect drinking water, and life-threatening pollutants that are the by-products of on-going LANL activities must be kept from contaminating our watersheds and tainting the Rio Grande. Adequate funding must be provided to clean up contamination at LANL to achieve these shared values.
Endorsed by: Amigos Bravos, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, Don Gabino Andrade Community Acequia, Embudo Valley Environmental Monitoring Group, New Mexico Acequia Association, Partnership for Earth Spirituality, Rio Grande Restoration, Tewa Women United.
Join these organizations in holding LANL accountable and protecting New Mexico's water resources by signing this statement. Please go to www.nuclearactive.org to print a copy and mail it to Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, 107 Cienega St., Santa Fe, NM 87501.
Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! will speak and sign her new book at a benefit for Cultural Energy, the Taos radio production non-profit, on Thursday, September 28th at noon at the Taos Community Auditorium. Doors are open at 11:15 and the program begins at 11:45 with youth activists and poets Juman Khweis and Lyla Johnston. After Goodman's speech she will sign copies of her new book, written with David Goodman, Static: Government Liars, Media Cheerleaders and the People Who Fight Back. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door and are available at Moby Dickens Bookshop, Kulture Cafe/Mondo Video, and Cultural Energy (192 Blueberry Hill, the old KTAO studio), or mail a check to HCR74 Box 21912, El Prado, NM 87529. A special Middle Eastern box lunch is $5 in advance. Come support Cultural Energy, creating media voices for youth, arts and activism in northern New Mexico.
By Kay Matthews
In last month's La Jicarita News I wrote an article about how critical it is that we define just what constitutes public welfare, one of the criterion by which the Office of the State Engineer (OSE) manages New Mexico's water resources, during this time of increased transfer requests to meet the needs of urban development and settle Indian water rights claims. The State Water Plan, released in 2004, mandates that each Regional Water Plan (RWPs) (there are 16 of them in New Mexico) develop its own public welfare statement, based on local needs and concerns, and I quoted former State Engineer Eluid Martinez, who many years ago endorsed this concept: "Whether a given area is to be preserved for traditional uses, such as agriculture, or converted to new uses such as subdivisions and commercial enterprises is more appropriately decided by local governmental entities charged with land zoning and development activities."
While some of the already completed RWPs have drafted public welfare statements that have been approved by the Interstate Stream Commission (ISC), there have been delays and internecine fights within the planning areas instigated by special interests that don't want to see what they interpret as "restrictions" on their ability to move water to the "highest and best uses", i.e., urban and industrial growth and development. Unfortunately, the Santa Fe law firm of Stein & Brockmann, which specializes in municipal water law, is now working to undermine the Public Welfare Statement and Implementation Program drafted by a subcommittee of the Taos Regional Water Plan (TRWP).
At the last meeting of the TRWP steering committee that law firm, which represents El Prado Water and Santiation District, one of the parties to the Taos Pueblo Water Rights Settlement, or Abeyta adjudication, submitted a letter objecting to the proposed criteria and implementation plan included in the draft TRWP. Several other parties to the Abeyta, and the Taos County Association of Realtors (whose name also appeared on the Stein & Brockmann letter as a client) submitted letters predicated on the Stein & Brockmann letter, raising the same issues. Because the parties to the Abeyta had been in negotiation on their proposed settlement during the time TRWP has been meeting over the course of the last several years and did not regularly attend TRWP meetings, their concerns are being expressed at the eleventh hour (the draft TRWP is to be completed by December 31 of this year).
While I have certainly been supportive of the Abeyta settlement as a much more equitable adjudication than the Aamodt adjudication in the Pojoaque Basin (see La Jicarita News, May and June, 2006), I think their concerns reflect a bias towards protecting their negotiated settlement, which includes only the Taos Valley, while the TRWP is the management plan for the entire Taos area, including the county and part of the Ojo Caliente area of Rio Arriba County. In the settlement there are provisions for transferring water rights to offset any "Future Groundwater Diversions" by the Town of Taos and El Prado Water and Sanitation District, rights that could conceivably come from sub-watersheds within the TRWP area. The parties to the Abeyta need to remember that the burden of these settlements sometimes falls on people who have not been sitting at the table, and any proposed transfer of those water rights should also have to meet the criteria laid out in the Public Welfare Statement.
Many of the points of concern they raised in their letters are easily refutable. Almost all of them claim that the draft Public Welfare Statement is contrary to state law because it is creating "new standards" that don't fall within the three statutory criteria that dermine whether a water transfer application should be granted: 1) it does not impair existing water rights; 2) it is not detrimental to the public welfare of the state of New Mexico; and 3) it is not contrary to conservation of water within the state. As ISC representative Mary Helen Follingstad, water planning programs manager, pointed out at the last TRWP meeting, however, state law does not define what the public welfare of the state is so how can they claim the Taos Public Welfare Statement is contrary to state law?
Their second claim asserts that by setting up a Public Welfare Implementation Program the TRWP is duplicating the process already overseen by the OSE in water transfers. Again, as Follingstad pointed out, the state has mandated the RWPs to develop their own public welfare statements, and several of them, with very specific and stringent criteria, have already been adopted. She also pointed out that the TRWP has been "very creative in what you've done" by drafting the Public Welfare Implementation Program that would review all transfer applications based on the Public Welfare Statement criteria and make recommendations to the OSE. The parties claim that this "circumvents" state law because the review committee, which is "without standing" in the OSE protest process, could prevent transfers. While many of us wish that local committees like this were invested with greater powers to influence OSE decisions with regard to water transfers, the Public Welfare Implementation Program will be only an advisory body. The OSE has a long history of rubber stamping transfers and has been negligent for far too long in failing to define what the public welfare is.
The law firm's letter also states that "The Public Welfare Statement, combined with the Conservation Statement [also drafted by a subcommittee of the TRWP], would result in the denial of all future transfers of water rights in the Taos Valley" and in the proliferation of domestic wells. What a presumptuous statement. Apparently they are fearful that any future water applications made by the municipalities may indeed be contrary to the Public Welfare and they will be faced with the reality of actually tying growth to the availability of water. And finally, all the papers end with some form of statement that the restrictiveness of these proposals will result in a taking of private property without just compensation. The Taos Pueblo letter concurs with this assessment with the additional overlay of its claim of sovereignty.
There seem to be three fundamental arguments the lawyers for these Abeyta parties are raising: 1) Water is a private property right, not a public resource that can be regulated for the public good; 2) economic development has precedence over other water management concerns; and 3) approval of the TRWP Public Welfare Statement would prevent successful settlement of the Taos Pueblo Water Rights Claim. All three of these arguments do nothing to add to the discourse necessary to resolve water problems in New Mexico, but instead continue to muddy waters that are already over appropriated, are diminishing due to drought, and are being used unsustainably to generate profit for the few at the expense of the many. Water rights holders throughout the Taos region would be better served with the implementation of the TRWP Public Welfare Statement and Implementation Program.
In a recent e-mail to La Jicarita News, Placitas mayordomo and community activist Lynne Montgomery expressed his frustration with his involvement in drafting a Public Welfare Statement for the Middle Rio Grande Regional Water Plan. He emphatically presented his postion on water transfers: "No transfers of rights until they are adjudicated! Save every square inch of agricultural land as a survival tactic! Keep the water with the land and only allow leasing of adjudicated rights that are not being used at the moment! Trash any conservation initiatives that don't emphatically state at the beginning that the freed up water will be used to pay our budget debts and not for new development! Apply science and factor in the real effects of groundwater pumping vs surface use! These are not negotiable!!"
Copyright 1996-2002 La Jicarita Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, New Mexico 87521.