What About Santa Fe’s Water?

Recent tests show no detectable PFAS in local public utilities, but some county wells show evidence of the contaminants

The EPA’s current proposal to drop acceptable levels of PFAS to 4 ppt in drinking water would have no ostensible impact to Santa Fe’s municipal water sources because recent testing shows the compounds aren’t present in detectable amounts.

The City of Santa Fe hired a contractor last year for tests of all its supply wells and storage tanks, as well as at its Santa Fe River treatment plant on Canyon Road and at the Buckman Direct Diversion, which draws water off the Rio Grande for city and county taps. After four days of sampling in June 2023, a July report indicated no detection of PFAS concentrations.

BDD Facilities Manager Rick Carpenter tells SFR he does not anticipate increased costs or operations changes for the regional facility

“PFAS is the soup of the day. It’s high profile and it will get controversial,” he tells SFR. “It probably will be very expensive for utilities that are not prepared. We are ahead of the curve.”

Using its own private contractor, the BDD conducted two rounds of PFAS analysis at the river intake and of the treatment plant finished water. In May 29, 2019, it tested for five compounds that were then part of the EPA’s standard list for contaminants and found no detectable levels. Then, in March 2023, tests at the same locations for 24 EPA-identified compounds also came up with nothing.

“From what we’ve seen so far, we don’t have a problem,” says BDD chemist Danny Carter. “In fact, we can’t even find any.”

It’s a different story for private wells owners in Santa Fe County, however. Last year, evidence of PFAS turned up in tests the county ordered after the Air National Guard confirmed PFAS was present in the ground under its facility at the Santa Fe airport.

The county reported in November that five of six groundwater wells sampled in La Cienega and La Cieneguilla showed the presence of PFAS—at levels between 1.8 ppt and 25 ppt for the two compounds the EPA plans to regulate, PFOA and PFOS.

The EPA recommends all private domestic well owners conduct regular testing for PFAS, and the county secured a grant from the state Environment Department for more testing that will help determine “the nature and extent of the potential impact to groundwater in these areas.”

The Air National Guard and other hundreds of military bases nationwide, including Cannon and Holloman Air Force bases contaminated land with firefighting foam that contained PFAS and was used for repeated training. PFAS have also been detected in soil and sediment samples at Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Technical Area 15 and within waters and sludge of its Wastewater Treatment Plant.

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