The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a draft permit to address the flows through the canyon systems at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) to the Rio Grande. The storm water, which is created by rains, monsoons and melting snow, flows over waste sites and carries contaminants toward the Rio Grande or to groundwater. Contaminants have been found at 25,000 times the New Mexico water quality standard for human health in these flows.
The draft permit requires LANL to manage the storm water runoff in a way that will prevent the migration of contaminants during storm events, which are called best management practices, or BMPs. EPA requires LANL to install BMPs within 360 days after the permit goes into effect. These measures may include installing straw bales or silk fences in watersheds or constructing retention ponds in canyons which flow to the Rio Grande.
EPA also requires LANL to take samples of the storm water. If three samples exceed the water quality standards, then LANL is required to remove the source of the contaminants, eliminate exposure of contaminants to the environment, or retain the runoff.
LANL’s original application contained about 1,300 sites. Currently, the draft permit covers 283 buried waste sites. LANL plans to submit information about 153 additional sites that need to be covered by the permit later this month. LANL’s delay in providing all the necessary information will place a burden on regulators and the public in their review of the draft permit.
The permit applies to sites that have a high potential for erosion. which allows for the transport of contaminants. Many are concerned that LANL is not addressing all of the sites. Rachel Conn, of Amigos Bravos, a state- wide river conservation organization, said, “While potentially requiring LANL to remove contaminated soils at the worst sites is a step in the right direction, we still have concerns about the monitoring locations and frequency. We urge the public to stay engaged in the permit process and advocate for the most protective permit as possible - our future drinking water depends upon it.”
Further, the Bush Administration will release its proposed Fiscal Year 2009 budget on Monday, February 4. The Department of Energy (DOE) proposed a funding level of $247 million for its environmental management work at LANL, which would include installing BMPs. The funding would also be used to comply with the New Mexico Environment Department Consent Order for cleaning up old waste sites, as well as the New Mexico Hazardous Waste Act permit for current operations which generate hazardous and toxic waste. Some estimate that LANL will need three to four times the proposed amount to address all of the various requirements.
EPA will hold a public hearing regarding the draft LANL permit on Tuesday, March 4 at the Best Western Hilltop House in Los Alamos, beginning at 6 pm with a public information meeting. The hearing will begin at 7 pm.
The EPA contact person is Diane Smith. She may be reached by phone at (214) 665-2145 or by email at email@example.com. Public comments are due to EPA by March 14, 2008.
For more information about the draft permit, go to http://www.epa.gov/region6/6wq/npdes/publicnotices/nm/nmdraft.htm.
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