ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Gov. Susana Martinez, the secretary of the Air Force, and city, state and federal officials came together Thursday at Kirtland Air Force Base to celebrate the long-awaited extraction of water contaminated by the KAFB fuel spill.
“We’re committed to protecting our precious water supply,” Martinez said. “We’ve taken the initiative and worked closely with the Air Force. I’m pleased that they have stepped up and started the work required by my administration to clean up the fuel leak, and I’m looking forward to continued progress.”
Deborah Lee James, who has been secretary of the Air Force for 20 months, said the New Mexico legislative delegation let her know about the Kirtland fuel spill early on.
“They spoke to me in a rather aggressive and loud fashion,” she said. “I said, ‘Let’s get on this. Enough time has gone by.’ ”
The cleanup project’s first extraction well, located in a church parking lot at 6200 Gibson SE, started pulling water tainted by the spill out of the ground on June 4. It was a milestone move for an effort that is more than 15 years old and that, after a slow start, has made giant strides in the last year.
Originating in fuel storage tanks at Kirtland, the leak – estimated at between 6 million and 24 million gallons – is believed to have been seeping into the ground for decades before it was discovered in 1999. Concern over the threat the leak posed to Albuquerque drinking water wells in the Southeast Heights has run high over the years – as has frustration with the delayed response to the situation.
Martinez praised New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ryan Flynn and his staff for getting things moving. She said Flynn refused to mark time or take no for an answer.
“Teamwork is what made this move forward,” she said. “I appreciate our partnership with the federal government.”
Things picked up speed just over a year ago when both the Air Force and the state Environment Department assigned new people to the job.
Adria Bodour, an Albuquerque native and a civilian scientist with the Air Force Civil Engineer Center in San Antonio, Texas, took the lead of a team of top Air Force scientists. And Flynn appointed several key employees, including environment department veteran Dennis McQuillan, to the cleanup mission.
The ceremony was held in front of the temporary treatment center where the contaminated water is cleaned.
KAFB commander Col. Eric Froehlich thanked those who live near the base for their patience in dealing with any disruption caused by the cleanup process.
The extraction well on Gibson pumps at a maximum capacity of 100 to 125 gallons per minute, pushing the water into a three-mile-long pipe system that conveys it to the activated carbon-filter treatment system. One million gallons of water have been treated so far.
Two more extraction wells and three monitoring wells, the latter intended to define the extent of the contamination plume, are set for drilling this fall in an area between San Pedro and Louisiana and from just south of Gibson north to Kathryn.