SUBMITTED NEWS RELEASE
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Continuing in his efforts to keep Nevada from becoming a dumping ground for other states’ trash, Sen. Harry Reid wrote to the assistant secretary for water and science at the Department of the Interior to raise concerns about the quality of a recent study produced by the U.S. Geological Survey.
Last fall, Reid added language to the fiscal year 2010 appropriations bill for the Department of the Interior that directed the USGS to evaluate potential impacts from the proposed Jungo dump near Winnemucca. The report released by the USGS contained a number of significant flaws. However, it did raise the possibility that pollution could seep from the proposed Jungo dump to northern Nevada’s largest river system.
Below is the text of Reid’s letter:
March 23, 2010
The Honorable Anne Castle
Assistant Secretary for Water and Science
1849 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20240
Dear Assistant Secretary Castle:
I am writing to express my concerns about the recently released U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) report entitled, Hydrologic Evaluation of the Jungo Area, Southern Desert Valley, Nevada. As you may know, this study resulted from an amendment I added to the Fiscal Year 2010 appropriations bill for the Department of Interior. In that amendment, I asked the USGS to examine the potential impact of seepage from the proposed Jungo landfill on underground water resources, nearby surface water resources, and municipal water resources in Winnemucca.
Regrettably, the USGS did not closely adhere to the language of the amendment and, instead, focused much of its attention on secondary issues. Notably, the report puts considerable emphasis on the potential impacts of surface water releases from the proposed dump, although this question was not raised in the legislative text. Further, the parts of the document that examine potential subsurface water impacts, which the amendment did request, rely on data that is decades old or that was provided by the proponent of the landfill in furtherance of their proposal.
Equally problematic is the way in which the study disregards the threat of contamination of subsurface water supplies simply because the proposed landfill would be constructed with a liner. The Environmental Protection Agency has made it abundantly clear through numerous landfill studies that all such liners will leak. As the USGS stated on the first page of its own August 2003 report, The Norman Landfill Environmental Research Site: What Happens to the Waste in Landfills?
Although liners and leachate collection systems minimize leakage, liners can fail and leachate collection systems may not collect all the leachate that escapes from a landfill. Leachate collection systems require maintenance of pipes, and pipes can fail because they crack, collapse, or fill with sediment. The USEPA has concluded that all landfills eventually will leak into the environment (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1988). Thus, the fate and transport of leachate in the environment, from both old and modern landfills, is a potentially serious environmental problem.
I am troubled that the USGS did not bring this information forward in its analysis of the proposed Jungo landfill site and, in fact, made statements that imply the exact opposite. This oversight is particularly significant since the surface to groundwater depth near the Jungo site is only 60 feet and the proposed site sits in a known seismic impact zone, thereby reasonably increasing the chances of a major liner or system failure.
I was also puzzled by the Jungo study’s finding regarding wind-blown contaminants and their impact on subsurface water resources. This line of inquiry was not outlined in my amendment and the brief analysis provided by the USGS reaches a conclusion without providing any data or substantive analysis. If the USGS wishes to explore issues related to airborne contaminants, I hope they will investigate how airborne particulate matter from the proposed 20-story dump–including residue from asbestos and sewage sludge that are slated for disposal there–could impact the respiratory health and well-being of Nevadans who live downwind from the site.
When reading the report, I was interested to learn of the possible relationship between the aquifer in Desert Valley and the aquifer that underlies the Humboldt River and Rye Patch Dam. The study raises the possibility that pollution that seeps out of the proposed Jungo dump has the potential to impact northern Nevada’s largest river system by entering into the neighboring aquifer to the south. Appropriately, the study states that more information is needed on this point before any solid conclusions can be reached. It is unfortunate that this measured approach was not taken in other areas of the report.
I appreciate the USGS’s efforts to provide a timely response to my request for an evaluation of some of the threats associated with the proposed Jungo landfill. However, the lack of attention to detail, the many unsupported conclusions, and the reliance on old and potentially unreliable data raises a number of questions about the usefulness of the report.
Securing high-quality data and analysis about the Jungo dump proposal is still a priority for me. I hope that we will be able to visit in the near future about what can be done to bring proper resources and attention to this pressing issue. I appreciate your time spent evaluating this matter and look forward to hearing from you.