February 12, 2020

Udall, Heinrich, Luján Urge Department of Defense to Provide Assistance For Clovis Well Water Cleanup

Lawmakers Write DOD After New Tests Show PFAS Contamination in Clovis Public Drinking Water System, Forcing Temporary Well Closure

Detection Comes 1 Year After New Mexico Delegation Introduced PFAS Damages Act in response to contamination at nearby dairies

WASHINGTONU.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representative Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.) sent a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper demanding the Department of Defense (DoD) assist with drinking water clean up after PFAS chemicals were detected within the Clovis, New Mexico water system. EPCOR, the company that owns and operates Clovis’s public drinking water system, conducted testing for 21 PFAS chemicals in its production wells. Some of the 82 wells indicated the presence of PFAS, according to EPCOR. EPCOR immediately took the affected wells out of service.  

“[W]e are extremely disturbed to learn of new developments detecting PFAS in some of the approximately 80 wells that provide drinking water to the City of Clovis and its approximately 39,000 residents, causing them to shut off the public water supply wells in an attempt to slow the movement of the PFAS contamination plume. The appearance of these chemicals in these wells is a significant – and very unfortunate – development, particularly since the City of Clovis anticipates the need to restart the wells later in the year to meet seasonal demands,” the lawmakers wrote. 

“Given the gravity of the situation, the State of New Mexico requested from the state legislature approximately one million dollars in tax payer funding to delineate the PFAS plume in Clovis and Alamogordo.  Our expectation is that the Department of Defense contribute to this effort and immediately open up all lines of communication with the state executive agencies, despite ongoing litigation related to this issue,”the lawmakers continued. 

The lawmakers concluded, “New Mexico is a proud host to three United States Air Force bases and has a rich tradition of military service, and we expect the Department of Defense to take immediate action on this serious problem to protect our citizens and our water.

Udall, Heinrich and the New Mexico delegation introduced the PFAS Damages Act last year to provide relief to communities and businesses affected by PFAS, including farms and ranches in New Mexico that have been upended by PFAS contamination from Cannon Air Force Base. The bill was included in the final National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) as an amendment. The measure ensures that DOD takes precautionary action to prevent human exposure, including through agricultural products, provide alternative water or water treatment for contaminated agricultural water, and acquire contiguous property that is contaminated. 

PFAS, or poly- and per- fluoroalkyl substances, are unregulated man-made contaminants, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not yet established a drinking water limit for any PFAS chemical. The EPA has established a Lifetime Health Advisory level for two chemicals in the PFAS family – PFOA and PFOS – at 70 parts per trillion. Over a lifetime, individuals who consume water contaminated above the recommended level are more likely to suffer adverse health effects. According to EPCOR, none of the test results indicated levels of PFOA and PFOS above 70 parts per trillion. 

The full text of the letter can be found here and below: 

Dear Mr. Secretary:

For over a year, our delegation has pressed for swift and immediate action to address contamination of drinking water in Eastern New Mexico.  After Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) chemicals were detected in public, private and agricultural water wells, we urged that treatment and filtration begin immediately along with work to characterize and prevent the spread of a plume. Unfortunately, the Department of Defense took limited action, citing a lack of legal authority to respond to contamination of groundwater by PFAS – authority that our delegation then worked quickly to provide to you. Department of Defense officials maintained that they were primarily charged with only mitigating any of its negligence as it pertained to drinking water for human consumption.

Now, we are extremely disturbed to learn of new developments detecting PFAS in some of the approximately 80 wells that provide drinking water to the City of Clovis and its approximately 39,000 residents, causing them to shut off the public water supply wells in an attempt to slow the movement of the PFAS contamination plume.  The appearance of these chemicals in these wells is a significant – and very unfortunate – development, particularly since the City of Clovis anticipates the need to restart the wells later in the year to meet seasonal demands.

Given the gravity of the situation, the State of New Mexico requested from the state legislature approximately one million dollars in tax payer funding to delineate the PFAS plume in Clovis and Alamogordo.  Our expectation is that the Department of Defense contribute to this effort and immediately open up all lines of communication with the state executive agencies, despite ongoing litigation related to this issue.  To date, the Department of Defense has already expended over $200,000,000 in environmental investigations and responses at or near installations where drinking water has been contaminated by PFAS.

As you are aware, we are awaiting your response on plans to use new authorities under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2019 to purchase contaminated land in order to implement filtration and treatment. These matters just became even more urgent, with new threats to New Mexico’s limited water supplies and public health.  Delays that allow the plume to continue to spread will only increase the scope of the long-term problem and costs to state, local and federal taxpayers.  New Mexico is a proud host to three United States Air Force bases and has a rich tradition of military service, and we expect the Department of Defense to take immediate action on this serious problem to protect our citizens and our water.

Sincerely,