I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
ABQ mayoral hopefuls should have a public health agenda
So far, the 2009 mayoral election has voters in a deep snooze as candidates squabble over city finances and the size of the mayoral bureaucracy. What a disappointment. Surely there are more important things to talk about.
What about the future growth of our city in an age of drought when “sustainability” and “green design” might become more than empty catchwords and, instead, be the basis for economic revival?
What about our shrinking economy and the city’s lagging competitiveness as a destination for national conventions, with our inadequate number of hotel rooms downtown and our lack of a nearby auditorium large enough for all conventioneers and their spouses to assemble?
What about city incentives for small businesses, like a moratorium on the occupation tax and on taxing tips, and a lobbying effort for a temporary reduction in gross receipts taxes as federal stimulus money fills coffers.
Shouldn’t we be talking about what we’ll do if the Colorado River drainage continues to lose water, and Lake Powell continues to shrink beyond its current 45 percent capacity?
Is there a mayoral candidate around who would risk proposing a temporary moratorium on new development until the water mess in the Middle Rio Grande Valley is adjudicated, and all water rights and dedications by all municipalities are tallied to see if there’s enough real water to back up all the promises of paper water?
Or better yet, is there a candidate who will seriously talk about the quality of our water and perhaps even commit to requesting an EPA investigation of our aquifer?
With the Obama EPA denying the air quality permit of the proposed new coal-fired power plant called Desert Rock in Navajo country near the Four Corners, might it not be a good time for a mayor to actually call for an investigation of how dirty our water really is? Could it be as bad as the air quality in the San Juan Basin, one of the most heavily polluted rural air sheds in America?
Wouldn’t it be good for candidates to debate, at least, whether such an investigation is warranted?
If they did, the first study they’d have to consult is a “public health assessment” carried out by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry [ATSDR] in 1994.
In a report on the South Valley Superfund site of the AT&SF Railroad, issued February 1, 1995, an alarming assessment of the health of Albuquerque’s ground water was made. And according to my files, almost nothing was made of it in the daily media.
As a background to the ATSDR study, the agency commented on the Middle Rio Grande aquifer as a whole. Its conclusions cry out for further investigation.
In a buried, throwaway paragraph, the report asserts that in “Albuquerque and Bernilillo [sic] County, over 150 documented ground-water contamination events have contaminated vast amounts of ground water, its quality degraded to an extent that affects its usefulness as drinking water. More than 20 of these cases may reach [the] Environmental Protection Agency Superfund National Priorities List.”
The report goes on saying that “as much as 30 square miles of land area may overlie contaminated ground-water supplies. Septic-tank systems, underground storage tanks, landfills, industrial facilities, and releases of hazardous materials from other sources caused this pollution.”
At the moment, Albuquerque has three Superfund sites. One, at the GE facility on Woodward Avenue near south Broadway, has seen ten years of cleanup, at a cost of some $93 million dollars, with twenty some years to go. And when the cleanup is finished, the water still won’t be potable.
Imagine 20 more such Superfunds sites in the Middle Rio Grande Valley. What is the implication of such vast pollution if the San Juan Chama drinking water project, which is partially replacing our reliance on ground water, should drastically dwindle along with the rest of the water in the Colorado River’s catchment basin?
Shouldn’t Albuquerque, in conjunction with Bernalillo County, call for a full EPA investigation of our much touted drinking-water aquifer? Doesn’t one have to presume that even after 14 years of inattention, those 20 potential superfund sites are still there? But where?
It seems entirely possible to me that the old myth of a Lake Superior under the city, the myth of a limitless water supply, deluded manufacturing businesses and the military into thinking it was “safe” to dispose of their toxic and hazardous waste in ways that might leak into that “lake.” That’s a generous interpretation, I know. Malfeasance, malign cost benefit analyses, and national security one-ups-manship are more the likely culprits.
Still, at a time of economic crisis in which cities are competing furiously with one another for any dollars they can find, a time of water crises and a growing conflict between urban dwellers and rural farmers, ranchers, and other small businesses who work the land, shouldn’t mayoral candidates in Albuquerque get serious with the voting public, not only alluding to such problems, but offering potential solutions to them?
Shouldn’t Albuquerque city government be repositioning the city’s economic policies to cope with such issues, and to foster innovative new directions for the city to take to capitalize on the opportunities that are the positive side of the crises that face us?
And what about our drinking water and those 20 potential superfund sites?