It can quickly be realized that Albuquerque may exceed the limits to growth that will be imposed by the Rio Grande and groundwater shortages from severe drought, loss of watershed due to fires and a poisoned aquifer. Given the drought, the major source of drinking water is the groundwater.  It is not being protected from contamination.  As NMED puts it:

“The [Kirtland Air Force Base] Bulk Fuels Facility Spill is the most significant groundwater contamination site in New Mexico because of contaminant types and concentrations, and the plume’s proximity to water supply wells serving the most populated community in the state.”

The Ridgecrest municipal wells that are the largest providers of groundwater for ABQ are threatened with a plume of Ethylene Dibromide (EDB) coming from the 24,000,000 gallon jet fuel and aviation gas release at Kirtland AFB. The EDB alone has the potential to contaminate trillions of gallons of groundwater.  Increased groundwater pumping can accelerate the movement of contamination from Kirtland AFB toward municipal wells.

Three Superfund sites already exist in Albuquerque-- the South Valley Superfund Site, the AT&SF, and the Fruit Avenue Plume.  Many other contaminated sites exist in Albuquerque.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Control Registry (ATSDR) provided the following public health assessment regarding unhealthful groundwater resources and that did not include the Kirtland jet fuel gusher:

“In Albuquerque and Bernalillo County, over 150 documented ground-water contamination events have contaminated vast amounts of ground water, its quality degraded to an extent that affects its usefulness as drinking water. More than 20 of these cases may reach Environmental Protection Agency Superfund National Priorities List. The New Mexico Environmental Improvement Department (NMEID) estimates that, so far, this pollution has affected about 20 public supply wells and 450 private wells in Bernalillo County. As much as 30 square miles of land area may overlie contaminated ground-water supplies. Septic-tank systems, underground storage tanks, landfills, industrial facilities, and releases of hazardous materials from other sources caused this pollution.”

A July 12, 2013 ATSDR Evaluation of Potential Exposures: Bulk Fuels Facility Groundwater Plume for Albuquerque concludes:

“There are no past, present, or expected future exposures via the groundwater (down-gradient water supply wells) pathway. BFF-related contaminants have not been detected in the water supply wells. Although it is expected that BFF contaminants would eventually migrate downgradient to water supply wells in the absence of remedial or contingency actions, such actions are already occurring and will be upgraded in the near future (Shaw, 2012c).”

The ATSDR conclusions that alternate supplies of water will be found and that effective remediation of EDB contamination will occur are speculative at best and based on errors.  There is no plan or ongoing remediation of the dissolved plume of LNAPL and EDB. The bulk of the LNAPL is trapped beneath the water table and cannot be removed with SVE technology.  Thinking that 24,000,000 gallons of jet fuel in the aquifer is not a crisis is not justifiable given the unknowns and the AF track record of contaminating other communities’ drinking water. The efficacy of removal technology is in serious doubt as there is currently no utilization of any technology by Shaw that will contain the plume trapped beneath the groundwater table and that has moved off base. The report does not mention that KAFB supply wells #15 and #16 are now shut down and are no longer being monitored for EDB contamination.  SVE is not effective for groundwater removal of EDB which is not readily volatile.  SVE equipment was shut down in December 2012.  Also, the edge of the plume is unknown, the velocity is unknown, the amount of contamination in the vadose zone is unknown, and the monitoring wells that were supposed to be placed near the municipal wells are not in place as per WUA resolutions. The new USGS well is 2000 ft away. The existence of an "alternate" source of water is not identified at present and there are about 30 square miles of contaminated groundwater in ABQ not counting KAFB and Sandia. 

The ATSDR remedy for protection, shutdown of the Ridgecrest municpal wells, ignores the 45+ wells to the north of Ridgecrest that will still create a cone of depression for further travel of EDB to additional wells. 
EPA, out of political deference to the Governor, Air Force and developers, has not placed the jet fuel spill on the National Priorities List or imposed emergency cleanup action although the jet fuel contamination clearly meets all the necessary requirements as the largest underground toxic spill threatening a municipal water supply. 

Nitrate and TCE contamination are in numerous other locations at Kirtland and Sandia National Laboratories. Kirtland’s unlined dumps often contain dozens of organic solvents that lie above Albuquerque’s aquifer. (2) Some dumps contained for example, radioactive isotopes such as Cesium-137, Plutonium-239 along with irradiated animal carcasses placed in plastic bags in dirt trenches.iii Decisions for leaving wastes in place have been made on computer modeling results instead of requiring accurate water quality data from a reliable network of monitoring wells.

The Water Utility Authority and NMED refuse to request Sandia Labs to clean up the Mixed Waste Landfill with 1,500,000 cu ft of radioactive and hazardous waste leaking into the aquifer. No clean up is underway for the Tijeras Arroyo area with contaminated groundwater from TCE and nitrates.  A large nitrate plume is present in much of the same area where the EDB plume is located.

The Office of the State Engineer/Interstate Stream Commission (OSE/ISC) informed the NM State Legislature in a report for a funding request to update the lower Rio Grande regional water plan that:

“OSE/ISC concludes as more time passes, and water problems increase in magnitude statewide, existing regional water plans are outdated and useless in addressing emerging water crises.”(Emphasis supplied).

The rosy Water Utility Authority estimate for servicing increased population growth does not take into consideration such factors as: reductions in SJC water, unsettled Navajo river claims, reduction in river water from groundwater mining, extensive contamination of the groundwater aquifer, changing climate, drought and loss of watershed from fire, shortages for agriculture, endangered species requirements (silvery minnow), accelerated runoff from urban growth and arsenic levels that must be diluted.ii  The estimate does not identify the future growth already on the planning books that has not been supplied, nor does it show the levels of growth that may be applied for in the future.iii 

In 2013 water diverted from the Rio Grande is being halted for four months due to drought conditions.  Eleven thousand farmers will not receive Rio Grande water.  That means mining more groundwater sources and that means even less groundwater entering the Rio Grande. 

Example, the Mesa del Sol residential development will have 35,000 homes with another 100,000 residents that need water.  Residential usage (average 150 gallons per day per capita) X (100,000 planned residents) X (365 days) will require an additional delivery of 5,475,000,000 gallons per year (16,800 afy) just for Mesa del Sol. Add to Mesa del Sol’s water consumption the numerous other large scale real estate developments planned for Albuquerque for more hundreds of thousands people.  Forest City is bailing out of its investment in Mesa del 

Kirtland has an infrastructure to supply 2 billion gallons of water annually.  If KAFB supply wells become contaminated or shut down, Kirtland will seek water from the city. Sandia Labs uses over 555,000,000 gallons annually supplied by Kirtland’s infrastructure.

Albuquerque’s fantasy of unlimited growth may soon have a sharp collision with reality and the existing businesses, homeowners, residents and fish that are demanding the supply of plentiful and clean water.  Watch for spiraling water rates from water scarcity induced by over development and poor political land use planning.  Contaminated drinking water from Kirtland could result in a crush of homeowners seeking to sell real estate at rock bottom prices.

Dave McCoy, Esq. Executive Director
Citizen Action New Mexico
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



1)  See V.B. Price articles:   Water Crisis: How will Albuquerque satiate its continual thirst for growth?

and Growth drain: New developments, lack of planning could tax water supply.


EPA ID NO. NMD9570024423

(p. 3) "Interviews conducted during previous investigations implied that the landfill contained general refuse, construction and demolition debris, and, possibly, hazardous waste that included chemical drums, oil-soaked insulation, and numerous 5-gallon cans containing unspecified liquids. Photographs taken in 1971 showed numerous 55-gallon drums at this site. These materials were buried at depths ranging from 10 feet (ft) to 30 ft over approximately 49 acres. The estimated volume of the landfill was approximately 603,000 cubic yards (cy).”

Landfill-008 covers a total area of 65 acres and contains an estimated waste volume of 2,346,000 cubic yards. It is 3 combined landfills.

(p. 4) “The city of Albuquerque and Kirtland AFB jointly operated Landfill 4 from 1964 to 1969 as a general refuse landfill, although no written records are available that confirm the type of refuse disposed.” [H]azardous materials such as arsenic, chromium, lead, benzene, and xylene were disposed…”

3) The dry conditions have prompted the Office of the State Engineer and the Interstate Stream Commission to conclude:

“as more time passes, and water problems increase in magnitude statewide, existing regional water plans are outdated and useless in addressing emerging water crises.”



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