Rocky Mountain Arsenal Offpost Private Well Inventory Sampling and Information Response Program

State: CO Type: Model Practice Year: 2008

The overall goal of Tri-County Health Department's (TCHD’s) program was and is to protect public health by identifying those wells that were contaminated and subsequently eliminate the exposure pathway to contamination related to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal (RMA) by providing an alternate drinking water source for affected residents. Objectives: 1. Identify all the property owners, residents, wells, well uses, well locations, and previous sampling data. Place these data in a common database so the data can be verified annually. 2. Prioritize the high-risk wells based on well location and previous sampling history and sample all priority wells. Determine if residents are being exposed to contamination and gather data for risk assessment purposes for use in determining a permanent cleanup solution. 3. Provide 100% of the residents whose wells are contaminated with an alternate drinking water source. 4. Create an informational program designed to keep all stakeholders informed of cleanup activities. Stakeholders include county officials, city officials, school district representatives, water district representatives, and local citizens.
TCHD became involved in RMA activities when nearby residents, north and west of the site, using private wells for domestic and irrigations purposes, began complaining of taste, odor, and crop-loss problems attributed to suspected RMA contamination in the early 1950s and 1960s. Military and political considerations in this Cold War era prevented any investigation or resolution of this suspected problem. This community health issue became increasingly relevant as more residents began to complain and the Army began to release information that described the extent, nature, and levels of contamination found in groundwater from the studies they performed in the late 1970s and 1980s. TCHD responded by becoming a liaison between residents and the RMA, Shell, EPA, and CDPHE. As a liaison, TCHD attended public meetings, fielded questions, identified candidate wells for sampling, took samples and explained sampling results to owners with impacted wells. TCHD also represented the local interests and needs in discussions about cleanup alternatives with the Army, Shell, EPA, and CDPHE. As TCHD’s contact with the local community increased, TCHD became the information source for off-post demographic and well information for the Army and cleanup information for the stakeholders. The first public health problem this practice addressed was the need to identify if an exposure pathway existed in the private well water, which most of the area residents used as their drinking water source. Second, if a contaminated well was found, provide an alternate drinking water supply (bottled water) to interrupt that pathway. The bottled water was provided until a permanent solution was decided upon and implemented. A third issue the program addressed was providing a means for stakeholders to get their questions and concerns addressed with accurate and timely information. Through this program, all the owners and residents were contacted by TCHD, and 99% of the drinking water wells were sampled. Contamination exposure pathways were identified and then eliminated by providing an alternate drinking water source. Current information was provided to stakeholders to keep them informed of cleanup activities, and their concerns were communicated to the Army and addressed in the ROD. TCHD had become a reliable force in preventing impacts from RMA-related contamination and represented the needs of the stakeholders throughout the cleanup process.
Agency Community RolesTCHD developed this practice, but the stakeholders had a large role in shaping the program. Previous contractors performing similar work had not been successful in gathering information. However, TCHD was a trusted entity due to its long-term role in providing a liaison function and was welcomed into citizens’ homes to complete survey forms and sample wells. So, TCHD’s long-term relationships with the community, which had been built up over many years, helped shape the practice and its success. TCHD has always listened to stakeholders’ concerns and taken those issues into consideration when providing comments on project designs. In response to a request for an after hours means of communication, TCHD created and currently maintains a 24/7 Information Line where citizens can call, leave a message and get an immediate response. We continually listen to the needs of stakeholders and are responsive to their concerns. As part of the project review and approval process, TCHD and the other regulatory agencies (EPA and CDPHE) meet independently as well as with the Army and Shell. There are daily and weekly meetings to discuss project status, suggestions to changes in project designs and to perform final inspections when projects are completed. Having extensive knowledge of the community, TCHD became a member of the Public Affairs Office (PAO). The PAO prepared the quarterly newsletters, press releases, and planned and staffed outreach activities. Through this relationship, TCHD was able to provide advice on planning outreach efforts attended by representatives of state, county and city governments, municipal water providers, school districts, and area citizens. TCHD was also given access to information related to historical RMA manufacturing and waste disposal operations in order to better explain how contaminants could be found miles off-post from the disposal sites. In order to communicate this information directly to the stakeholders, TCHD created a coalition of the above groups and met with them to identify their concerns as to what was needed in the ROD remedy. The Northern Community Coalition (NCC) was formed in the early 1990s and still meets today. In the early 1990s, the purpose of the NCC meetings was to provide educational services on the Superfund process, the cleanup alternatives that were being proposed and impacts each might have on the future of the community. The discussions then turned to what the local community needs were in relation to a ROD and what could be done to get those needs into the document. TCHD helped the group galvanize their needs and also represented them during the final remedy discussions. Many of those needs were implemented and put into the off-post ROD. This group continues to meet and discuss the cleanup activities and still has a voice in how the remedy impacts the community. Costs and ExpendituresPrior to 1988, TCHD incurred all labor costs associated with RMA activities, including sampling service, attending meetings, and providing liaison services with stakeholders. In 1988, the program was funded by the Department of Army under a sole source contract in 1988. In 1990 the program duties were expanded and defined under a memorandum of agreement (MOA). This agreement was updated in 1997. ImplementationTCHD’s program began with the preparation of a work plan based on the requirements of the MOA, which identified the goals, objectives, and deliverables for the program. Specifically, the work plan outlined the extent of the study area, data to be included in the database, and historical information. Upon completion, the draft work plan was provided to the Army, Shell, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Colorado Department Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) for review. All the agencies provided comments to increase the overall effectiveness and value of the program. As a specific example of implementation, the second objective recognized above was to identify, prioritize, and sample all of the high-risk wells. These were wells used for drinking water purposes. To complete this task, a survey form was created to obtain owner, resident, water source, well log, well use, and sampling history information. This information was entered into a database and well locations plotted on the assessor parcel maps. Wells were then prioritized based on whether or not they were a drinking water source, if they had been sampled previously and had a high detection levels, or if they had never been sampled but were located near wells with detections. Depth of the wells was also a factor because wells were more likely to have detections if they were drawing from the alluvium versus wells that were drawing from a confined aquifer. The work plan also contained the standard operating procedures for gathering data and the proper method for collecting and shipping water samples. This provided a standard tool for training staff as they collected survey data, entered the data into the database or collected, prepared, analyzed, and shipped samples. The program began to carry out these tasks in January of 1990 when the sampling began and the database was created. The sampling schedule called for all the wells to be sampled within the first three years of the program and for property information to be verified annually.
TCHD’s program has provided a single-source, up-to-date database of property owners, residents, resident demographic data, drinking water sources, well uses, well log information, and sampling data. The database can be queried and mapped. For example, mapping properties with residents using well water for drinking purposes with past detections is a routine query. The database was used to identify residents exposed to contaminated drinking water so affected residents could be provided with bottled water in order to prevent further exposure to RMA related contamination. It was also used to identify the extent of the contaminant plume for the off-post record of decision (ROD), which ultimately provided an alternate water source for affected residents and eliminated the exposure pathway off site of the RMA. The program has provided an outreach tool to update stakeholders on the cleanup issues and progress. TCHD’s program continues to track the number of residents, drinking water sources, and contaminated wells; identify and sample new wells; monitor the effectiveness of the selected remedy at RMA; and keep stakeholders informed of current cleanup activities.
Under the MOA, the Army fully funded this program and will continue to do so until the requirements of the ROD are met. This program’s existence is tied to the success of the ROD remedy and is essentially working itself out of a job as cleanup progresses. The off-post remedy involves the continued operation of several carbon filtration pump and treat systems and the re-injection of clean water into the aquifer. These systems are located on the perimeter of RMA and capture and treat groundwater flowing off RMA. Within a few months after startup, the levels of contamination downstream of these facilities began to see a slow but steady decrease in contaminant levels and plume size. These systems went on-line in the early 1980s, and the reduction of the contaminant levels continues to be documented through TCHD and Army monitoring efforts. The systems were so effective that additional systems were installed to capture contaminant plumes where they were concentrated off post and on post. Currently, eight of these systems are in operation. The off-post ROD requirements will be complete when groundwater contaminant levels decrease and reach the specific goals. It may take an additional 30 years for the contamination to be reduced below the cleanup goals. The Army continues to fund the TCHD program and is committed to doing so until cleanup goals are reached and contamination is no longer found in off-post private wells. TCHD will continue to protect the residents near the RMA by maintaining the database for drinking water monitoring purposes, monitoring existing wells through sampling efforts, and sampling new wells that may be drilled in the historic contaminated areas. TCHD will also continue to keep the residents and other stakeholders informed on the status of the remedy through the efforts of the PAO. Once the conditions of the ROD are met and no contamination is found in private wells, TCHD’s services will no longer be needed.