- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 10, 2014

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico environmental regulators are criticizing Kirtland Air Force Base’s proposal for cleaning up a massive underground fuel leak, saying it would threaten Albuquerque’s water supply.

The New Mexico Environment Department recently concluded the cleanup plan would make the problem worse, spreading contamination to Albuquerque groundwater that is currently clean, The Albuquerque Journal (http://bit.ly/1pAH5rz) reports.

“The proposed strategy would actively enhance the spread of contamination into the very resource NMED seeks to protect, Albuquerque’s drinking water supply,” Environment Department official Tom Blaine wrote in a June 6 letter.

In April, Kirtland floated a proposal to increase pumping on one of the base’s drinking-water wells to try to divert the underground flow of contamination. The idea was to pull fuel-contaminated groundwater away from a danger zone where it threatens municipal drinking water wells beneath a southeast Albuquerque neighborhood.


Once the contamination reaches the well on base, the Air Force would pump it up and run it through a treatment system to clean it to meet drinking water standards before pumping it into the base’s water supply system, according to an April 8 Air Force memo explaining the plan.

Even if the move might relieve some of the risk to municipal wells, which is questionable, Blaine wrote, it would do so at the expense of contaminating an area that is now clean.

The Air Force discovered in 1999 that an underground fuel line had been leaking, likely for decades. Estimates of the size of the spill range from 6 million to 24 million gallons of aviation fuel over the years, but to date none of the contaminated groundwater has been cleaned up beyond a brief experiment conducted on a single groundwater well last December.

The letter shows growing tension between the Air Force and state regulators over the cleanup progress.

A Kirtland spokesman declined comment Monday, saying the Air Force was still reviewing Blaine’s letter.

But in an opinion piece published in the Journal on Sunday, Air Force official Ian Smith said, “The Air Force and Kirtland . are committed to a complete clean-up of the fuel leak site.”