New Mexico Business Weekly
The New Mexico Environment Department is fighting an effort by Los Alamos National Laboratory to overturn state rules for discharging storm water into streams and rivers, requirements that are more stringent than federal standards.
The Department has filed a motion with the state Water Quality Control Commission to dismiss a petition by the U.S. Department of Energy and Los Alamos National Security LLC that appeals the Environment Department’s more stringent requirements on storm water effluent from LANL.
The Department’s requirements for storm water discharges from various locations at LANL are based on a lower “hardness” value than has been proposed by the lab. Hardness values indicate the mineral content of the water. Low hardness values cause certain metals to become toxic to aquatic life at lower concentrations. Thus, using a lower hardness value in permit calculations results in more stringent effluent limits on toxic materials.
Environment Department Secretary Ron Curry said the requirements are necessary to protect aquatic life and he points out that new drinking water projects mean several New Mexico cities will be relying on this watershed for drinking water.
The Buckman Direct Diversion, planned by the city of Santa Fe and Santa Fe County, will draw water from the San Juan-Chama Project and native Rio Grande water to provide drinking water for residents.
The Department of Energy and the University of California, which operates LANL with several companies as Los Alamos National Security, applied to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a permit for storm water discharges into surface waters at LANL in 2005 and revised the application in 2007. EPA issued a draft permit in 2008.
The state Environment Department issued a state certification of that permit to EPA in May 2008, as required by federal law. The state’s certification was conditional. It required EPA to apply a lower water hardness value in setting effluent limits for metals, including cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, nickel, silver and zinc.
DOE and Los Alamos National Security appealed the conditional state certification to the Water Quality Control Commission in July. But Environment Department officials said the appeal was not submitted within the required 30-day time limit and filed a motion to dismiss the petition for review.
While we're on the subject of water, now would be a good time to mention that the LANL Daily News Bulletin published a link to Los Alamos County's 2007 Drinking Water Quality Report on Wednesday.
I'm no expert on water, but the report is only eight pages. What caught my attention was the Consumer Confidence Report on page six. In the Radionuclides section it lists detections of alpha emitters (plutonium is an example of an alpha emitter) of up to 12.579 pCi/L (picoCuries per Liter).
The MCL (Maximum Contaminant Level) is the “Maximum Allowed”. In other words, the highest level of a contaminant that is allowed in drinking water. The MCL for alpha emitters is 15 pCi/L.
12.579 pCi/L is below the MCL of 15 pCi/L, so why did that catch my attention? The consumer Confidence Report lists the "Likely Source of Contamination" as "Erosion of Natural Deposits", but does not specify what isotopes were found in the drinking water. Knowing only the gross alpha, it seems odd to attribute it to natural sources. Or perhaps the contributions of each alpha emitter are known but were not published. Hopefully some of the blog readers can provide more information.