Activists question groundwater data

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LANL: Groups claim some monitoring wells do not exist

First of a series
Editor’s note: Coming Sunday will be LANL’s response to the groundwater accusations.

Registered Geologist Robert H. Gilkeson and Joni Arends of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety made quite a splash at the Espanola Basin Technical Working Group a couple of weeks ago at Santa Fe Community College.

In a presentation, Gilkeson and Arends claimed that the necessary networks of monitoring wells to detect groundwater contamination from the LANL waste dumps do not exist.

They claimed that practically all of the wells installed since 1997 are unreliable and require replacement. In their presentation, they quoted a 2007 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report that stated, “Many if not all of the (33) wells drilled into the regional aquifer under the Hydrogeologic Work Plan appear to be compromised in their ability to produce water samples that are representative of ambient groundwater for the purpose of monitoring.”

Gilkeson and Arends then cited a 2010 New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) report that stated, “The NAS report references wells that were installed as part of LANL’s groundwater characterization efforts that were conducted in accordance with their Hydrogeologic Work Plan (1998)… These wells were not installed for contaminant detection or groundwater monitoring. Therefore, these wells have limited relevance to groundwater protection goals set forth by the March 1, 2005 Consent (Cleanup) Order.”

NMED issued the following statement concerning the accusations.

“While it is accurate to state that the LANL facility groundwater monitoring network is not complete and that there are well screens that are still being evaluated and may need to be rehabilitated or replaced, NMED does not agree that practically all of the wells installed since 1997 are unreliable and require replacement,” NMED spokesperson Jim Winchester said

“LANL has been directed to install several additional regional aquifer wells. Some of those wells will likely be installed by the end of 2013. Extensions until 2014 have been granted for the installation of at least three regional aquifer wells (including two at TA-54) and one intermediate perched zone well.”

Nevertheless, Gilkeson and Arends claim that the unreliable characterization wells are now used as reliable monitoring wells for remediation decisions in the NMED “Cleanup” Order.

They wrote the following: “The attempt to rehabilitate some of the characterization wells was not successful. Replacement of the characterization wells and the new monitoring wells drilled under the ‘Cleanup’ Order is needed because: (1) the screened zones were contaminated with large amounts of organic and bentonite clay drilling additives, (2) the wells were not installed along groundwater flow paths from the dumps, (3) the wells were not installed at locations close to the dumps, and (4) the wells were installed in “tight zones” and not in the permeable aquifer zones where the groundwater contamination is expected.”

With that information, Gilkeson and Arends said there is inadequate knowledge of the direction and speeds of groundwater travel at the waste dumps because the careless drilling operations did not locate the water table or correctly locate and install the monitoring wells.

They cite the LANL September 2011 Corrective Measures Evaluation, Rev. 3 report for Material Disposal Area (MDA) G. In that report Gilkeson and Arends said the lab admits there is inadequate knowledge of the direction of groundwater travel.

That report goes on to say, “the direction of the regional aquifer flow is believed to be dominantly toward the southeast based on regional water-table levels and maps.”

But Gilkeson and Arends say the data and flow maps clearly demonstrate the direction of flow is to the northeast to the Pueblo de San Ildefonso and further to the Santa Fe Buckman drinking water wells. They also said there are no reliable monitoring wells for groundwater contamination from MDA G.

“LANL and NMED continue the mistake to use water quality data alone to determine that the monitoring wells damaged by drilling additives have “cleaned up” to produce representative water samples,” they wrote in their report. “However, the NAS and reports by the Environmental Protection Agency Kerr Research Laboratory explain that water quality data alone cannot be used for this purpose.”