WQCC Decisions in December
Victory for Clean Water: NM Adopts New Regulations for Large Dairy Feedlots
12/15/10 The New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission has for the first time adopted regulations to protect water from large industrial-scale dairy facilities. For a press release click here. Unlike the image portrayed by the dairy industry – of small farms with cows peacefully grazing on green grass – New Mexico is dominated by large-scale industrial dairies, also known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). New Mexico has the highest number of animals per facility of any state in the country. Each day, New Mexico’s dairies generate 5.6 million gallons of manure. This waste is seeping from manure lagoons into the ground and contaminating groundwater. According to NM Environment Department data, two-thirds of the dairies in the State have violated water quality standards for nitrates. For a full docket of documents submitted by the New Mexico Environment Department, the dairy industry, and a coalition of civic groups, including Amigos Bravos please go to: www.nmenv.state.nm.us/OOTS/HearingOfficer/DairyRegs/NMED-WQCC-DairyPleadingLog.htm. For a copy of the letter sent to Governor-Elect Martinez click here
Another Major Decision by the WQCC Provides Protection for New Mexico's Most Important Rivers and Lakes
12/1/10: Over 700 miles of 199 perennial rivers and streams, 29 lakes, and approximately 6,000 acres of wetlands have been designated Outstanding Natural Resource Waters (ONRWs) under the Clean Water Act, affecting close to 1.4 million acres of Wilderness lands. Activities that would contaminate these waters are now prohibited. For more information and a press release click here. Hearings on ONRW designations were held in September and October. Amigos Bravos provided extensive testimony. For more information about Outstanding Natural Resource Water designation, please click on the link on the left margin.
Middle Rio Grande Bosque InitiativeRio Grande Irrigation Water Sampled for Drugs, Contaminants
bySusan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press, October 21, 2009
The Rio Grande slices through the heart of New Mexico, bringing drinking water south for the state's largest communities as channels fan out from the river valley, carrying irrigation water to farmers.
The water that sustains to may is usually brown with silt after coursing miles down rugged canyons and across sage-dotted high desert.
But what exactly is in the water?
A group of researchers including government scientists, environmentalists, and Albuquerque high school student is trying to get a better handle on the pollutants that are finding their way into the Rio Grande and its irrigation channels.
In a three-year sampling study, the group is looking for everything from heavy metals to bacteria and pharmaceuticals.
The scientists say the study will give water managers better information for making decisions that will impact drinking water, wastewater treatment, irrigation and the wildlife that depend on the green belt lining the Rio Grande.
"We have already identified pharmaceuticals at very low concentrations in these waters and this is very, very important because it shows that there is some kind of human impact on the quality of the water," said Cyndie Abeyta, a hydrologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "We need to keep track of this and see where it's going and see what we can do to help prevent further degradation of these waters. "
Nationwide, an Associated Press investigation found pharmaceutical traces in drinking water supplies of at least 51 million Americans and in many waterways. The drugs ranged from antibiotics to psychiatric drugs to endocrine-disrupting sex hormones, and the biggest source is human excretion.
While drug companies, water providers, and some scientists downplay any danger of ingesting pharmaceuticals at such low levels, other scientists believe that even tiny amounts may cause harm over decades, especially in combination with other drugs.
Scientific studies also indicte that some drugs, including sex hormones and psychiatric drugs, can harm aquatic species.
The scientific record on what's happening in the Rio Grande and its irrigation channels is just now begiinning to be established, and it's unclear what impacts contaminants such as pharmaceuticals have on species like the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow.
Abeyta said that's why a comprehensive study on water quality in the Middle Rio Grande Valley is so important.
Earlier this month, Abeyta and Anthony Benavidez, a 17-year-old student at Albuquerque's School on Wheels, waded out into an irrigation ditch just east of the Rio Grande to take the last round of samples for the first year.
In hip-deep water, Abeyta and her helper used a special sterile plastic bottle attached to a metal rod to capture water from the channel. The process is slow and methodical, Abeyta said, and ensures a representative sample from the sides, top and bottom of the channel.
The study calls for samples to be taken from several sites first in the spring, before irrigation season begins, then in midsummer, and finally at the end of the season. The goal is to determine if water quality changes as use changes throughout the year.
"That's why we wanted to do a three-year program, " said Michael Jensen of Amigos Bravos. "There's so much change from site to site and year to year."
USGS hydrologists also sampled the water with their own equipment and will use another lab to test it.
"We have pretty rigorous quality control, just so that people can't say the problem is with you or how you're doing it, not with what's in the water, " Jensen said.
The study is one of the many in the Middle Rio Grande Valley meant to monitor water quality. American Indian pueblos along the river banks have done sampling and New Mexico's largest water utility authority began testing for pharmaceuticals at various points in its system, including the site where drinking water is diverted from the Rio Grande for processing.
Jensen said the nation has made progress over the past three decades under the Clean Water Act, but water quality is becoming more of a concern today as climate change and growing demands put more pressure on the limited resource.
"We are facing increasing problems with pollution, pollution that's a lot more complex," he said. "Pharmaceuticals are one of those issues where the science on the impacts is just beginning to emerge."
Court Rules Cleanup Tab For Mines and Other Hazardous Sites Should Not Fall To Public
In closing 25-year loophole, court protects public from hazardous waste sites and could save taxpayers billions
San Francisco, CA – A federal court has ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must close a loophole that – for more than 25 years -- has made it easy for mining companies, coal ash dumps, and a host of other polluting industries to skip out on costly cleanups by declaring bankruptcy. The case concerned EPA’s failure to issue “financial assurances” standards that ensure that polluting industries will always remain financially able to clean up dangerous spills and other contaminated sites.
Attorneys Lisa Evans and Jan Hasselman with the public interest law firm Earthjustice represented the Sierra Club and environmental groups in New Mexico, Nevada, and Idaho in the case, decided late yesterday by U.S. District Judge William Alsup, based in San Francisco.
Environmental advocates hailed the decision as a victory that paves the way for new federal rules that would require hardrock and phosphate mine operators, metal finishers, wood treatment facilities, and other industries to post bonds covering the cost of potential future cleanups.
“By not promulgating financial assurance requirements, EPA has allowed companies that otherwise might not have been able to operate and produce hazardous waste to potentially shift the responsibility for cleaning up hazardous waste to taxpayers,” Judge Alsup wrote in the decision. The undisputed evidence before the Court demonstrated that such financial assurance requirements result in better environmental protection and faster and more thorough cleanups.
When the Superfund law was passed in 1980, lawmakers gave EPA three years to start putting financial assurance regulations in place. More than 25 years later, these regulations remain unwritten. Under the terms of the decision, EPA has until May 4 to identify the industries that will be first subject to these financial assurance requirements.
“This victory paves the way for the new administration to correct a longstanding environmental problem while saving taxpayers billions of dollars at the same time,” said Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman, who argued the case before Judge Alsup. “New standards will push companies that deal with toxic substances towards more responsible practices.”
Perhaps the industries most impacted by the decision are hardrock and phosphate mining. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ranks the mining industry as the nation’s top toxic polluter, reporting more toxic releases annually than any other industry. The industry generates more than 2 billion pounds of toxic waste each year and has polluted more than 40 percent of western watershed headwaters. Without financial assurance regulations, it has been easy for mine operators to walk away from sites contaminated with cyanide, lead, arsenic, mercury and other toxins, and they have done so time after time.
In 2004, the EPA reported that 63 hardrock mining sites were listed as Superfund sites on the agency’s National Priority List (NPL), EPA’s list of the most contaminated Superfund sites, with an estimated cleanup cost of $7.8 billion. Of that, $2.4 billion was expected to come from taxpayers. Another 93 mining sites were being eyed for inclusion on the Superfund NPL list.
One of those Superfund sites is the Molycorp/Chevron molybdenum mine near Questa, New Mexico. The Taos-based organization Amigos Bravos has long called for Molycorp to take responsibility for the toxins it released during the mine’s 40-year history, contaminating the Red River and nearby groundwater aquifers. In 2002, after much of the damage was already done, the company agreed to set aside $152 million for cleanup. But total cleanup costs could reach $400 million, and observers wonder if the scale of destruction would have been less if Molycorp knew at the outset it would be held responsible.
“This victory will encourage mine operators to act more responsibly, hopefully preventing future problems in New Mexico,” said Brian Shields, executive director of Amigos Bravos. “Now that companies know that they are responsible for cleaning up after themselves, there’s a strong incentive for them to improve their waste management practices.”
Perhaps the most far-reaching example of irresponsible mining operations is Asarco, which declared bankruptcy in 2005. The century-old mining and smelting company left behind 94 Superfund sites in 21 states, with a total cleanup cost estimated at more than $1 billion, far more than the $62 million trust the company set aside for cleanup.
In Idaho, Asarco is among mining companies responsible for contamination spread across the 1,500-square-mile Coeur d'Alene River basin. Cleanup work is likely to last for generations. EPA has estimated the cost of the first 30 years at $359 million.
The Idaho Conservation League is also watching prospective cleanup costs mount from 17 contaminated sites caused by phosphate mining.
“We’re heartened by this victory and hope that it will help relieve taxpayers of a financial burden and keep our rivers and streams clean,” said Justin Hayes, Program Director of the Idaho Conservation League.
In Nevada, 27 mining companies had declared bankruptcy as of July 2000, creating some of the country’s highest potential taxpayer liability.
“This victory comes at a crucial time for communities impacted by Nevada’s mining industry,” said John Hadder, executive director of Great Basin Resource Watch. “The gold mine bankruptcies from the 1990s left our state riddled with contaminated sites. But from now on, we hope to benefit from the stronger protections brought by this court win.”
Another industry potentially impacted by the decision are coal-fired power plants, responsible for generating 131 million tons of toxic coal ash per year. The industry has been in the spotlight in the wake of immense toxic spills at two Tennessee Valley Authority sites. When coal ash is dumped in mines and waste ponds, financial assurance for cleanup is rarely required.
“We hope that the municipal utilities and coops that now own most of the Peabody Prairie State Energy power plant in downstate Illinois take notice of this decision," said Kathy Andria, Waste & Recycling chair of the Illinois chapter of Sierra Club. Prairie State plans to dump 60 million tons of coal combustion waste on a 4,000-acre site of old strip-mined land near farms and homes. “After the recent disasters in Tennessee and Alabama, we want to make sure Peabody and its partners have the cash to pay for any problems that could arise in the future. More importantly, we hope that cash will serve as an incentive for them to act responsibly to keep surrounding communities and water resources safe.”
For a copy of the decision issued in this case, please visit: http://www.earthjustice.org/library/legal_docs/cleanup-bonds-decision.pdf
River Otter Release, Fall 2009
Amigos Bravos is delighted to announce that three more otters were successfully released into the Río Pueblo de Taos in the early morning hours of December 30, 2009. They were brought from Washington State to join the other ten otters released this fall, and the ten otters that have thrived since three initial releases from the same site in the fall of 2008.
Since the otter release in 2008, Amigos Bravos has received several reports of otter swimming and sunning themselves on the rocks up and down the Río Grande and its tributaries, with one report coming from as far away as White Rock Canyon. Most of the calls are from rafters and hikers. Amigos Bravos was especially fortunate that a professional photographer, Kriston Clark, of Southern Exposure, happened to capture a photo of three adult otter fishing together near Sunset Rapid at the confluence of the Río Pueblo de Taos and the Río Grande.
Everywhere that otters have been released in the United States they have tended to reproduce and thrive. Amigos Bravos has received a number of reports of otter pups, and though we have never gained conclusive proof, it is very likely that pups are indeed playing in the Río Grande and along its banks. Part of the otter’s ability to thrive is due to a skillful strategic maneuver on nature’s part. Female otters experience “delayed implantation.” Following conception, a fertilized egg may float free for as long as ten months in the mother’s uterus. In deep winter, the egg implants with the result that pups are always born in spring. Gestation time once implanted is two months. Otter young may be born up to a year after the mother mates.
Out of the ten otters from the original 2008 release, two did not survive. One was accidentally killed when caught in a beaver trap. The beaver traps have since been removed. Another otter was hit by a car near the river-side village of Pilar. Automobiles are the greatest mortality factor known for otters. They are at the top of the food chain in the river ecosystem.
The most recent batch of otters was flown in by the BLM in a serendipitously named Twin-Otter model plane. BLM is also donating pilot time and helping with coordination of the event. Additionally, Amigos Bravos is indebted to Taos Pueblo for their participation and commitment to the project. In each case, the Pueblo has released the otters on Pueblo land and donated personnel and supplies. The Pueblo is working closely on this project with Darren Bruning from the US APHIS Wildlife Services, the branch of Agriculture that is charged with killing what are termed “nuisance animals.” Otters are considered nuisance animals if they are, for example, stealing from a commercial fish pond. Understood in this light, New Mexico’s otters are essentially being rescued.
Bruning worked hard to get the otters from the wet northwest to the high mesa desert of the Río Grande watershed, under the best possible conditions. It was a short trip for the otters because the Twin-Otter is a relatively large plane. When the otters arrived they were put in pods – shed-like pens – that contain a water tank and hay. The otters were fed fish for three days. On the third day, the doors were unlatched and the otters emerged at their leisure. After a quick (or, for the leery, slow) scan of the surrounds, the otters headed straight for the river a few feet away and dove gracefully into its reflection. This procedure, involving the adjustment period in the pod, is termed a “soft release,” (as compared to a “hard release” in which otters are released immediately on landing). Especially exciting was that among the six otters were a mother and her pup, who were kept together in the same pod.
The joint collaboration of New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, US APHIS Wildlife Services, Taos Pueblo, BLM, and New Mexico Friends of River Otters (for which Amigos Bravos is fiscal sponsor and coordinator) is planning two more releases of Washington State otters to the Río Pueblo de Taos this fall.
In fall 2010, Amigos Bravos is looking forward to a release of otters into the Gila River. We are moving cautiously toward this release because the Gila contains endangered fish. A long assessment process is necessary in order to ensure we are returning the otters in a way that will best serve endangered native fish. The Rio Grande and Gila watersheds harbor non-native fish and non-native crayfish, both of which are destructive to the native river ecosystem. Otters love to eat the slower moving non-native fish, so the return of their presence will improve conditions for native fish. Melissa Savage, Four Corners Institute ecologist and member of New Mexico Friends of River Otters says, “The river otter is going to improve the aquatic habitat wherever we restore them. They are part of our natural heritage, and we are delighted to be able to bring them back.”
The cost of trapping, medical check-up, holding, transporting and releasing otters comes to approximately $1,000 per otter. Donations to help with further river otter reintroduction can be sent to: New Mexico Friends of River Otters, C/O Amigos Bravos, 105-A Quesnel Street, Taos, NM 87571
Special thanks to Amigos Bravos board member, Jon Klingel, for his work on the otter project.
Stagnant WatersOn October 18th 2008 the Transportation and Infrastructure congressional committee released a report on the Bush Administration's impact on the Clean Water Act, the primary federal legislation that protects water quality. The report entitled "Stagnant Waters: The Legacy of the Bush Administration on the Clean Water Act" can be downloaded here in pdf format.
Stagnant Waters 2008 Clean Water Act Report.pdf
Public Comments - Triennial Review of Water Quality Standards (comments due September 30, 2008)
Make Your Voice Heard!
New Mexico is revising its Water Quality Standards – please take the time to submit comments to the state.
- Plutonium, Tritium, and Americium Standards in the Rio Grande to protect drinking water sources downstream from Los Alamos.
- New stronger standards for perennial, intermittent, and ephemeral streams which will ensure that E. coli levels are low enough for recreation in and on the water.
- New standards for Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) such as antibiotics and hormones.
Click here and fill in your name and address and click send to send a comment letter that urges the New Mexico Environment Department to take action on these issues and many more. Please feel free to add to (or subtract from) to the comment letter as appropriate.
Thank you for taking the time to protect water quality in New Mexico.
LANL Santa Fe New Mexican AdPlease view the pdf file below in case you missed the ad in Friday's (02/08/08) Santa Fe New Mexican.
Action Taken on Los Alamos National LabsOn February 7th, 2008, Amigos Bravos, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, Don Gabino Andrade Community Acequia Association, Embudo Valley Environmental Monitoring Group, New Mexico Acequia Association, Partnership for Earth Spirituality, Río Grande Restoration, SouthWest Organizing Project, Gilbert Sanchez, Kathy Sanchez, and Tewa Women United filed a lawsuit against Los Alamos National Laboratory for violations of the Clean Water Act.
To download the full complaint, click the link below.
EPA Awards $299,216 for Bernalillo County Environmental Health Efforts
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded $299,216 to the Bernalillo County Environmental Health Office. County officials will use the funds to collaborate with gas station owners and auto dismantlers to help reduce benzene and heavy metals in the aquifer and air. The county also aims to reduce South Valley, N.M., residents' environmental exposures to volatile organic compounds and heavy metals with this project.
EPA awarded the grant as part of its Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE) program. CARE is a competitive grant and technical assistance program to support community-based education and public health protection projects across the country.
Additional information on EPA grants: http://www.epa.gov/earth1r6/gandf/index.htm
More about activities in EPA Region 6: http://www.epa.gov/region6
EPA audio file: http://www.epa.gov/region6/6xa/audio.htm#audio120507_bernalillo
Contact Information: Dave Bary or Tressa Tillman at 214-665-2200 or firstname.lastname@example.org
New Mexico's Waters at Risk
Recent Supreme Court decisions and Bush Administration policies have put our state's waters at risk. Because of these decisions and policies over 90% of New Mexico's waters are at risk of not receiving Clean Water Act Protections. The Clean Water Act is the piece of federal legislation that protects our waters from unregulated dumping and pollution.
Because of the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, we have made great progress in cleaning up New Mexico's waters. However, since Supreme Court rulings in 2001 and 2006, polluters have argued that the law no longer protects numerous wetlands, streams, rivers lakes and other waters historically covered by the Act. The Clean Water Authority Restoration Act of 2007 would restore longstanding Clean Water Act protections that had been in place for over 30 years. Amigos Bravos is working at the state and national level to identify the threats to New Mexico waters as well as to advocate for a restoration of historic protections. Please see the attached fact sheets for additional information.
The New Mexico Water Dialogue - Fall 2007Published by the New Mexico Water Dialogue
To promote the wise stewardship and ensure the availability of water resources for future generations of New Mexicans through support of community-based planning and creation of inclusive forums for education, communication, and development of common ground.
NM Dialogue Fall 07.pdf
Climate Change and Water
Is New Mexico Vulnerable — a report from NM public forums on climate change and water.
To download the report, click on this link: http://www.nmfirst.org/townhalls/ClimateChangeFinalReport.pdf
Executive Order Water CabinetGovernor Richardson Signs Executive Order Establishing a Water Cabinet
Amigos Bravos Files Lawsuit 11/07The goal of the lawsuit is to compel the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to issue regulations to protect the tax payer from having to cover the cost of clean up at abandoned hazardous waste sites.
New Study on Climate Change and WaterRecent climate change study by Brian Hurd and Julie Coonrad of NMSU. "Climate Change and it's Implications for New Mexico's Water Resources and Economic Opportunies”: http://agecon.nmsu.edu/bhurd/hurdhome/index.htm.
River CleanupThis article contains information regarding Taos, NM area river cleanups.