Thursday, March 24, 2005

Report details wasting of water at LANL

Report details wasting of water at LANL

Diana Heil
Santa Fe New Mexican
March 24, 2005

While everyday citizens caught rain in barrels, installed low-flow toilets and watched plants wither from drought in 2003, Los Alamos National Laboratory missed opportunities to reduce waste, limit water consumption and save taxpayer dollars.

According to a new U.S. Department of Energy Inspector General report, the lab could have saved 41 million gallons of water a year -- plus associated chemicals -- but didn't have the $60,000 necessary to design the filters to accomplish it. The filters, which would have removed sand from water, could have saved the lab $500,000 annually through improved operational efficiencies of its cooling towers.

What's more, the lab failed to replace leaking faucets and install low-flow shower heads because the projects weren't funded, according to the report. Combined, the projects would have cost $4,000 and saved an estimated $380,220.

"It's unconscionable for the lab to waste so much of New Mexico's most precious resource when it could have been easily prevented and could have also saved taxpayers' money," Scott Kovac, research director for the nonprofit Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, said. "The lab stated that these projects were not implemented because of insufficient funding. This is another example of lab management's pennywise and pound-foolish priorities."

Across the country, Energy Department sites should do more to reduce pollution in cost-effective ways, the report says. Some sites didn't research new opportunities to prevent and recycle waste; others didn't practice strategies they had identified as workable. In 2003 alone, Energy Department sites produced 1.2 million cubic meters of waste, including radioactive waste.

Some blame falls on Washington. "We found that the department did not always support and fund pollution prevention programs, nor did it establish performance measures to monitor waste reduction activities," the report says.

Los Alamos lab, however, is ready to put the past behind it.

In May, it will unveil a new, $4.5 million plant where sand will be removed from water before the water is used in cooling towers. This prevents sludge from building up inside the cooling towers and makes them more efficient. It's expected to save 21 million gallons of water a year at first, then 50 million gallons in future years, lab spokeswoman Kathy DeLucas said. Currently, the lab consumes 400 million gallons of water annually.

Silica -- a white compound found in quartz, sand and flint -- is a huge problem in volcanic-rich soils. "Parts of Northern New Mexico are some of the worst in the country for the level of silica in water," said DeLucas, who has a problem with silica buildup in her hot-water heater at home.

Meanwhile, the faucet and shower projects are still under consideration, she said.

DeLucas noted the report does not cover more than 20 pollution-prevention projects the lab is doing. It focused on what wasn't done. In February, Los Alamos received more than half the Energy Department's pollution-prevention awards, though none of these had to do with water, she said.

After reading the report, Ron Curry, the state's environment secretary, said the waste is unfortunate. "Director (Pete) Nanos has made many positive changes at the lab, and I think this report opens the opportunity for him to make some more," Curry said.

First, this is believable in that LANL Facilities Management would not spend the $60K needed to save $500K. FM is not in the business of saving money.

That said, the Santa Fe New Mexican reporter, Diana Heil, is known to have a significant anti-LANL bias. The article does not reference the title or # of the IG Report. A search of the DOE IG website ( fails to find such a report. Did she make this up? Is she trying to join Attkisson and Schieffer at CBS?
The lab has managed to replace many restroom faucets with automatic ones which spew out a small amount of cold water. It's reassuring to notice that we are conserving water when we wash our hands at the cost of our health. And complaints about the water being too cold to effectively kill germs go unanswered by FM because if the water were hotter somoeone might burn their hands (remember the McDonald's cup of coffee) and sue LANL.
It has always been impossible to convince DOE that money should be spent for conservation of any kind or for maintenance of buildings.

DOE doesn't care about New Mexico's water. Period. They care about being able to present a face to Congress that says, here are the bright shiny new projects we are funding. Those bright shiny new projects must be in line with Congress's political preferences.

Conservation? You must be kidding. New Mexico? Where's that?

---Been there, tried to do that.
If it really would have cost only $60K to save $500K, then once again LANL Facilities Management has not fullfilled their responsibility. Facilities Management's attitude seems to be that whatever money they get from Space Charge (now called "Infrastructure Tax") is theirs to spend as they see fit. Anybody who actually wants them to do something will have to pay extra.
To 6:38 AM,
The report can be found at:

It is interesting to note that the IG praised LANL for coming up with the idea to tax waste generators. This netted the Lab $600,000 last year, which helped make up for the lack of funding received from DOE. The IG recommended that other sites do the same.
From the article, it sounds more like they could have spent $60k to save $500k + the $4.5M it cost to build the plant to remove the sand.
The reporter doesn't seem to know her water chemistry. The problem is dissolved silica. Sand is a minimal problem. When water is treated to remove the silica, a resultant byproduct of highly concentrated silica-precipitates and caustics must be disposed of in interesting quantities. Certainly the treated water works better in cooling towers minimizing silica buildup and allowing for more "cycles" of the water before "blow-down", but what about the newly created waste-stream? This whole process does conserve water however.
Speaking of LANL conserving water...Can anyone explain the frequent discharge (dumping) of water from the water tank above Pajarito Road (the one that supplies White Rock). Of course one would have to walk along the road to actually see it. Most obivous when there is water flowing and it hasn't rained for weeks. I'm sure there is a good explaination, LANL's FM organization is vrey good at explaining things!
Its an overflowing tank...lots of water. Either the water pumping control system malfunctions (frequently and most likely) or system operating personnel are doping off. The tank up on Sycamore overflowed so bad one time that several dump trucks of earth had to be hauled in to fill the washout.

The old party line was that "oil, bugs and leaves were being skimmed from the water surface at the top of the tank".
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