The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Water authority hears contamination cleanup options


June 23, 2019

David Grieder

King Industries' Tom Blaine shows ENMWUA board members a map of the kidney-shaped contamination plume defined southwest of Cannon AFB.

CLOVIS - If you're on fire the advice is to stop, drop and roll. If your groundwater is contaminated, one consultant's advice is to stop, isolate and clean up.

That was the recommendation Thursday afternoon of King Industry's Tom Blaine, presenting recommendations to the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority as to how the chemical contamination originating from Cannon Air Force Base might be best addressed. ENMWUA hired Blaine on a $15,000 scope of work contract for the purpose of ultimately bringing recommendations to military officials, and at the authority's regular meeting in Clovis he presented the tentative conclusions from studying the issue in recent months.

Last year the state's environment department issued a notice of violation to the U.S. Air Force for failing to properly address a contamination to private groundwater supplies that stemmed from chemicals used in military firefighting exercises at CAFB, producing a contamination plume of up to four miles southwest of the base and severely impacting a local dairy served by one of three affected wells. Officials maintain municipal water supplies in Clovis and Portales are safe, but the plume's position over an underground paleochannel poses a threat of spreading while Department of Defense officials take their time in addressing an issue seen variously at over 100 of its installations.

"We've really beat the facts to death in this community," ENMWUA Chairman and Clovis Mayor David Lansford said before Blaine's presentation. "Everybody knows how tragic it really is."

Blaine proposed the following recommendations: placing a moratorium on drilling wells in the area of the contamination plume, then pumping-and-treating contaminated water with an activated charcoal filter system and finally repurposing that treated water.

The last stage is to "draw that plume into itself" by putting the treated water back onto its high-contamination areas, accelerating the process of pulling any remaining fluorinating compounds into the plume area. They are then pumped out and filtered from the water, so it's a cyclical process of many iterations.

The method is similar to that Blaine used in addressing a jet fuel cleanup at Kirtland Air Force Base and rather standard process for such matters.

"Every aquifer is different, but the characteristics of aquifers and how they respond is same," Blaine said. "That is a typical way of treating environmental issues ... that is a science that is pretty well proven."

Responding to questions from ENMWUA board member Ladona Clayton, Blaine said it was difficult to estimate how fast the plume was spreading or how much it would cost to clean up. Blaine said a contribution of $1 million from civilian communities might be leveraged for a $9 or $10 million contribution from the military, but board members emphasized the financial responsibility needed to be with the military.

"You painted a very good picture of what we can expect to see out there ‚-provided by the Air Force," Lansford told Blaine after the presentation. "This is something we can take to the Air Force and say, 'Look, here's a jump-start'.

"I'm not sure there's an appetite anywhere that the local community pay for the cleanup," Lansford continued. "I understand the leverage philosophy, (but) we'll just have to see, test the waters and see."

A final report on Blaine's recommendation will be complete in 30 days, he said, and at that time ENMWUA may present the proposal to the military and see what they make of it.

Lansford expressed hope that the city of Clovis or Curry County, either individually or in partnership, might "take up the mantle" in proceeding with those discussions.

"Our intentions were to help," Lansford added. "To expedite the solution."

Also at Thursday's board meeting:

• A debrief on ENMWUA's presentation Wednesday afternoon to the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee, which met in Portales. Lansford and Administrator Orlando Ortega had emphasized the authority's hopes to complete the Interim Ground Water Project in the next three to five years and said state funding of up to $90 million would accelerate that project.

IGWP, when completed, could provide infrastructure necessary to secure water rights privately owned by farmers in the area and subsequently offer an alternative groundwater supply to ENMWUA member communities while long-ranging construction on the Ute Water Project continues.

LFC Chair and Dist. 35 Sen. John Arthur Smith (D-Deming) told the presenters Wednesday there was "a long line of requests" and that the best hope of pipeline funding was to make it a capital outlay request priority. He said he anticipated "lots of challenges ahead" but that "we wish you well in your advocacy."

In a presentation on state activities Thursday to ENMWUA, Joe Thompson told the board the authority was still "in a very, very strong position to really make great advances in the next six to eight months" and to not be discouraged.

• Approval of board meeting schedule for 2019-2020 fiscal year, with a change in meeting time to 3 p.m. the fourth Thursday of each month, effective for the next board meeting July 25 in Melrose.

• Renewal of service agreement with Hinkle and Landers Certified Public Accountants.

• Approval of insurance coverage agreement with a local company, Western State Insurance Group.

• Public input from Curry County resident Blake Prather, who asked the board to "quit kicking the can down the road" when it comes to reserving water rights.

"You don't build a house before you drill the well," Prather said, taking issue with ENMWUA's focus on building and funding infrastructure for IGWP instead of securing water rights.

Lansford replied that "conceptually, I really understand and totally agree" and that he believed ENMWUA was "on the cusp of doing what you're suggesting.

"But it's a tandem approach," he continued, explaining that the pipeline infrastucture needed to be in place before farmers would likely agree to sell or lease water rights.


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