At the close of its January 6 meeting, Buckman Direct Diversion Board members each took a gulp from glasses of purported Santa Fe municipal water in an apparent show of faith in the water's safety.

That, or they were making a toast to their unanimous vote accepting the results of an independent peer review of the water's quality, and to the surprising tranquility of the evening's proceedings.

When ChemRisk consulting company presented the results of its IPR to a standing-room only crowd at a Dec. 7 public meeting, audience members were whipped into a near-frenzy as details of the study came out.

The cancer risk ratio of one in 10,000 that ChemRisk presented (actually an error - the real number was 1.75) raised a lot of concern, because the New Mexico Environment Department considers a risk over one in 100,000 unacceptable. Many members of the crowd were also alarmed to hear that ChemRisk didn't test the Rio Grande during storm conditions, when radioactive contaminants originating from LANL are known to overflow into the river.

Vocal audience members demanded new testing and questioned the scientists' biases. One woman held the floor for about ten minutes while she videotaped the panel responding to her accusations that the river is "supercontaminated," and tried unsuccessfully to show the audience a large map.

The recent meeting was sedate by comparison. About 20 people listened docilely while BDD consultant Norm Gaume read aloud a seven-page paper dismissing the concerns raised in December. He said the increased risk of cancer in one in 10,000 is acceptable because ChemRisk tested raw water, though he neglected to mention that the company also subtracted 95 percent of the radioactive particles it found from its results, assuming that the treatment plant will remove them. However, Gaume separately stated that the plant will remove 99.99 percent of sediments, which he said the particles cling to.

Gaume also pointed citizens to a press release on the BDD website titled "Gradual Introduction of Treated Buckman Direct Diversion Water Begins - NMED Gives Green Light." Except in the title, the press release doesn't state anywhere that NMED recently approved the water, but says BDD will send that agency monthly compliance reports.

Engineer Michael Crawford buttressed Gaume's remarks during the public comment period, when he said that ChemRisk "severly overestimated" the amount of contaminants in the water. Joni Arends of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety gave the board a stack of letters and a signed petition from citizens who have ongoing concerns about the water, and requested the board make the IPR's data publicly available.  Don Hatton said that like the Roman Colossus, BDD is destined to fail just by virtue of being an engineering project, though he added that it might take 1,000 years.

But everyone respected the board's instructions to speak no longer than two minutes and not belabor past comments.

Maybe it's something in the water.