Donate-a-Dime Organization of the Month: The Water Groups

Every month, La Montañita sponsors a local community-based organization through our Donate-a-Dime bag program.

Protecting Our Drinking Water

The Water Groups, an alliance of Albuquerque-based community groups and individuals, have been dealing with three ongoing threats to Albuquerque’s drinking water: aquifer contamination by Kirtland Air Force Base and Sandia National Laboratories, and inadequate filtration of Albuquerque’s tap water coming from the Rio Grande.

Sandia National Laboratories

For more than a half century, Sandia National Laboratories disposed of radioactive and chemical wastes, both solid and liquid, in unlined pits and trenches above Albuquerque’s drinking water aquifer. Disposal sites of current concern are Tech Area-V, Tijeras Arroyo and the Mixed Waste Landfill (MWL) where canisters containing metallic sodium and high-level nuclear waste were disposed; metallic sodium in contact with moisture could explode spreading radioactive contamination and starting fires in the depleted uranium at the site. There have already been two uranium chip fires at the MWL. The New Mexico Environment Department has detected dangerous substances in the soil hundreds of feet below the surface of Tech Area-V , the Tijeras arroyo sites and the Mixed Waste Landfill including: Trichloroethylene (TCE) and Tetrachloroethylene (PCE), both of which are carcinogens and can cause Parkinson’s disease and damage to the organs. For more information about the contamination at TAV and Tijeras Arroyo, read Paul Robinson’s research at For more information on the Mixed Waste Landfill, read Dave McCoy’s research at

Sandia Labs has covered over the wastes at the Mixed Waste Landfill with a layer of dirt, but that does nothing to prevent contamination from seeping into the ground and down into the aquifer. Sandia Labs has proposed that their state permit for the MWL be modified to “Corrective Action Complete with Controls.” If the state accepts this proposal there will be little chance that the many contaminants at the MWL will be disposed of properly. Secretary of the Environment, Ryan Flynn, has promised to hold a public meeting concerning TAV and Tijeras Arroyo contamination in 2015. At this time there is no commitment to clean up any of the SNL sites that threaten our aquifer.

What You Can Do:

Thirty faith-based and community groups as well as businesses have requested that the New Mexico Environment Department hold a hearing concerning the Mixed Waste Landfill so that experts and the public can testify to the need to excavate the landfill from above Albuquerque’s aquifer and dispose of the waste in a safe and legal way. Would you consider attending and/or speaking at the hearing? If so, please e-mail; we will put you on a list to be notified when we know the date and time of the hearing. Also, stay tuned to the Co-op Connection News.

Kirtland Air Force Base

The jet fuel spill, recognized by the Air Force in 1997, is estimated at 24 million gallons by the NM Environment Department (NMED). The liquid plume of jet fuel is one mile long by one half mile wide within the groundwater aquifer which is more than 450 feet below the surface. Included in the plume is Ethylene Dibromide, a carcinogenic chemical which has traveled more than a mile to the north towards Albuquerque’s Ridgecrest wells and forty-plus other municipal drinking water wells.  The Air Force still has no effective plan to remove the liquid jet fuel or dissolved plume. Toxic contamination could reach the wells in as few as five years (Jim Davis, NMED). The City of Albuquerque is on the verge of authorizing a subdivision for one half million people without considering possible water shortages from extensive contamination of the groundwater aquifer and reductions in San Juan/Rio Grande water due to the many claims on New Mexico Surface Waters.

What You Can Do:

Contact the NM Congressional Delegation and ask them to protect our aquifer: Sen. Tom Udall 346-6791, Sen. Martin Heinrich 346-6601, Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham 346-6781.

Drinking the Rio Grande

About forty percent of our tap water comes from the Rio Grande. Unfortunately, the Rio Grande is contaminated and Albuquerque’s current filtering system is leaving many contaminants including plutonium from Los Alamos National Labs runoff in the finished water. On Nov. 12, 2014, the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority (WUA) began releasing treated Rio Grande water into Bear Canyon Arroyo. Though the Water Groups would have preferred that this contaminated water not be released into the aquifer, Agua es Vida Action Team takes the position (and advocated for this position during the decision-making period) that infiltration through layers of sand and dirt is preferable to direct injection into the aquifer, WUA’s original plan.

What You Can Do:

Ask that a better filtering system be installed in the Alameda plant where water is taken in from the river and treated. Contact Maggie Hart Stebbins, Chair of the Water Utility Board:

This article is a collaborative effort of the Water Groups: Albuquerque Center for Peace and Justice, Agua es Vida Action Team, Citizen Action, Citizens for Alternatives to Radioactive Dumping, Our Endangered Aquifer Working Group and Southwest Research and Information Center. For more information, get in touch with us at: or 505-242-5511.


Editor’s Note: The quality and quantity of our Southwestern water supply is one of the most critical challenges we face in New Mexico. While the Water Groups is a new alliance, many of these groups have been waiting their turn on the bag donation list. We bumped them up to this month to both honor their cooperative pooling of material and creative resources for greatest impact and to help them strengthen their alliance with some start-up funding. Individual organizations will not lose their place in the bag credit organization queue.