NM Environment Review: Climate change ‘fingerprints’ in the 20th century + news around the state

This week we have a story about a new study in Nature that shows the “fingerprints” of climate change on 20th century drying. Next week, we’ll look at what some local governments in New Mexico are doing to prepare people for the continued impacts of warming. • There are two other recent studies worth checking out, including one in Nature about the risks of hydroclimate regime shifts in the western United States and another in Earth’s Future, published by the American Geological Union, about adaptation to water shortages caused by population growth and climate change. • Rebecca Moss with the Santa Fe New Mexican reports on the lack of progress on safety concerns at Los Alamos National Laboratory. • The Carlsbad Current Argus’s Adrien Hedden reports on New Mexico State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard’s executive order to create a “buffer zone” around Chaco Canyon. The order enacts a moratorium on oil and gas leasing on 72,776 acres of state trust lands in the area. • Writing for High Country News, Nick Bowlin covers a judge’s ruling that reinstates the valuation rule, which the Trump administration repealed. We wrote about those changes in 2017, after the first time a judge ruled that the U.S. broke the law when “updating” how royalties are calculated on federal and tribal lands.

Tests: PFAS limits below federal limits in drinking water near Cannon

According to recent tests, Cannon Air Force Base’s public water system is safe. In response to the discovery of groundwater contamination last year, the state of New Mexico conducted follow-up testing this spring. Samples from two of the four wells currently supplying drinking water tested by the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) did contain polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. That includes samples from the Turquoise Estates drinking water system. But the levels are below the federal health advisory.

NM Environment Review: Gold King Mine and PFAS lawsuits, oil & coal + the news

All week, we look for stories that help New Mexicans better understand what’s happening with water, climate, energy, landscapes and communities around the region. Thursday morning, that news goes out via email. To subscribe to that weekly email, click here. Here’s a snippet of what subscribers read this week:

• A federal judge denied the federal government’s request to dismiss claims by the state of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation over the 2015 Gold King Mine spill. The Farmington Daily Times, The Denver Post, and Reuters all covered that news.

‘Intolerant’ of groundwater contamination, NM sues Air Force over PFAS pollution

In a lawsuit against the U.S. Air Force, New Mexico alleges the military isn’t doing enough to contain or clean up dangerous chemicals that have seeped into the groundwater below two Air Force bases in the state. On Tuesday, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) filed a complaint in federal district court, asking a judge to compel the Air Force to act on, and fund, cleanup at the two bases near Clovis and Alamogordo. “We have significant amounts of PFAS in the groundwater, under both Cannon and Holloman Air Force bases,” NMED Secretary James Kenney told NM Political Report. PFAS, or per and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are toxic, human-manufactured chemicals that move through groundwater and biological systems. Even in small amounts, exposure to PFAS increases the risk of testicular, kidney and thyroid cancer and problems like ulcerative colitis and pregnancy-induced hypertension. NMED Secretary James Kenney

“We want the groundwater cleaned up in the shortest amount of time possible, and we think at this point litigation is our best and fastest approach,” Kenney said.

CDC identifies communities to test for PFAS. But none are in New Mexico.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) identified communities in five states, where they plan to test for human exposure to per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Those are the same chemicals that contaminated the groundwater below Cannon and Holloman Air Force bases. PFAS was found within foams used to extinguish petroleum-based fires, and also used in products like non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain-resistant fabrics and other products.  

But New Mexico isn’t on the list of five states where testing will occur.  

Starting this year, ATSDR will test eight communities near military bases, including:

Berkeley County, WV near Shepherd Field Air National Guard BaseEl Paso County, CO near Peterson Air Force BaseFairbanks North Star Borough, AK near Eielson Air Force BaseHampden County, MA near Barnes Air National Guard BaseLubbock County, TX near Reese Technology CenterOrange County, NY near Stewart Air National Guard BaseNew Castle County, DE near New Castle Air National Guard BaseSpokane County, WA near Fairchild Air Force Base

In 2018, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that activities at 126 military bases had contaminated groundwater with PFAS.

Groundwater contamination devastates a New Mexico dairy – and threatens public health

For
months, Clovis dairy farmer Art Schaap has been watching his life go
down the drain. Instead of selling milk, he is dumping 15,000 gallons
a day – enough to provide a carton at lunch to 240,000 children. Instead of working 24/7 to keep his animals healthy, he’s planning
to exterminate all 4,000 of his cows, one of the best herds in Curry
County’s booming dairy industry. The 54-year-old second-generation dairy farmer learned last August that his water, his land, his crops – even the blood in his body – were contaminated with chemicals that migrated to his property from nearby Cannon Air Force Base. See all of NM Political Report’s coverage on PFAS contamination.

State to Air Force: Clean up contamination at Holloman

The state of New Mexico has responded to reports of groundwater contamination at yet another Air Force base—this time, Holloman Air Force Base. On Wednesday, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) issued a notice of violation against the U.S. Air Force over groundwater contamination at Holloman, which sits on nearly 60,000 acres just outside the City of Alamogordo. “We are dismayed by the Air Force’s lack of prompt response to the contamination found at Holloman and will use all avenues available to us to hold the military accountable and make affected New Mexicans whole again,” said NMED Secretary-designate James Kenney in a press release from the department. “This Notice of Violation is a step toward ensuring that happens.”

A November 2018 Air Force site inspection report showed contamination levels in some areas at Holloman are 18,000 times the federal limit for PFAS. PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of human-made chemicals, and include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).

Watch: Laura Paskus discussing Holloman AFB water contamination

New Mexico In Focus invited NM Political Report’s Laura Paskus to talk about her recent story about the contamination of water under Holloman Air Force Base. The story focused on a U.S. Air Force site inspection report showing contamination from hazardous compounds known as PFAS in groundwater underneath the Air Force base. PFAS—or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a class of human-made chemicals which includes perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS)—were found at thousands of times the levels deemed safe for humans. According to the report, the groundwater in the area is brackish and not used for drinking water at the base or in nearby communities. See the segment below.

2018 report shows off-the-charts contamination in Holloman AFB water

The groundwater below Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo tested positive for hazardous chemicals—and the contamination levels are more than 18,000 times higher than what the federal government says is safe.  

A November 2018 site inspection report provided to the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), and obtained by NM Political Report this week, details the contamination. Currently, the state is trying to understand the extent of the problem and what might be done. According to the report, in 2016, the U.S. Air Force identified 31 potential release sites at Holloman. Two years later, in 2018, contractors tested five areas to determine if PFAS were present in soil, sediment, ground or surface water.

Cannon AFB water contamination on tap in Friday night meeting

Friday evening in Clovis, the U.S. Air Force is scheduled to host a meeting about groundwater contamination below and near Cannon Air Force Base in eastern New Mexico. Details about the meeting were publicly released Tuesday, Nov. 6, on Election Day. This summer, the Air Force announced it was sampling groundwater wells for traces of harmful chemicals found within firefighting foam used at the base from the 1970s until last year. The testing was part of a nationwide effort by the military: Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that activities at 126 military bases had contaminated groundwater with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a class of human-made chemicals, often referred to as PFAS’s, that includes perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).