Focus on the Environment: ‘Groundwater War’ looks into pollution at military bases in New Mexico

Laura Paskus is a correspondent and producer on “Our Land: New Mexico’s Environmental Past, Present and Future,” which airs as part of “New Mexico in Focus.” (Rob Browman/Albuquerque Journal)

Challenges never deter Laura Paskus.

In fact, it’s the challenges that fuel her.

One would need that drive while covering water issues in New Mexico.

Paskus is one of the driving forces behind “Groundwater War,” a stand-alone production featured on the New Mexico PBS website.

The space is dedicated to Paskus’ investigative pieces about groundwater contamination near military installations across the state.

“One of the most challenging things is that there’s this problem that we all now about: the contamination from the two bases,” Paskus says, referring to Cannon and Kirtland Air Force bases. “Because there’s push and pull from the state and the Air Force, it can get confusing. The state doesn’t know if the Air Force is moving forward.”

For years, the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Authority, working in cooperation with the Air Force and the New Mexico Environment Department, has closely monitored the decades-old jet fuel spill that has contaminated the groundwater beneath Kirtland Air Force Base and nearby neighborhoods.

The Air Force began operation in 2015 of a series of extraction wells to begin cleaning up the contamination, and to date no municipal drinking water wells have been affected by the spill. The closest drinking water wells in the possible path of the jet fuel plume are monitored to ensure that no contamination has occurred.

Paskus says “Groundwater War” also looks into access to public records.

“The state has been really forthcoming,” she says. “With the military, you ask certain questions, and you don’t get clear answers.”

Laura Paskus, left, is a correspondent and producer on “Our Land: New Mexico’s Environmental Past, Present and Future,” which airs as part of “New Mexico in Focus.” (Courtesy of Laura Paskus)

Paskus is a correspondent and producer on “Our Land: New Mexico’s Environmental Past, Present and Future,” which airs as part as “New Mexico in Focus.”

Paskus says that despite many roadblocks, she remains hopeful for the project.

“There’s a ton of science to look through,” she says. “Having the time to go through the science is key. Then being able to call people up and have them walk me through is needed so I can help the public understand what is happening. People don’t have the time to understand the history of it all. I have to be able to trim it down to what’s easy to take in.”

For the series, Paskus often goes on location to report. Since the pandemic hit, her process has changed a bit.

She recently went to the Farmington-Aztec area for a story.

“It has been a lot harder with COVID-19,” she says. “We were up in Aztec, and seeing everybody masked up was a good thing. They were able to take the mask off while being interviewed, and we gave them enough distance. I do miss my sources and just talking face to face with them. I fully support everybody keeping one another safe.”

SEND ME YOUR TIPS: If you know of a movie filming in the state, or are curious about one, email film@ABQjournal.com. Follow me on Twitter @agomezART.

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