AMARGOSA VALLEY, Nev. – Trevor Dolby attended the EM Nevada Program Groundwater Open House here last month to learn more about the quality of the water in his rural community.
Water, after all, is arguably the most important issue facing this small town of slightly more than 1,000 in the desert some 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
“Everybody out here is on groundwater and almost everybody is on a private well,” said Dolby. “The industry we have here is dairy and alfalfa. And, to support the dairy, that takes a lot of water.”
On this particular night during the open house at the Amargosa Valley Community Center, Dolby and dozens of other community residents talked with scientists from the EM Nevada Program and other organizations.
They discussed extensive testing that has been done on groundwater at the nearby Nevada National Security Site (NNSS), which was the scene of underground nuclear testing for decades until the early 1990s.
Residents learned that extensive analysis of the groundwater in the region shows the groundwater in Amargosa Valley is free of contaminants like tritium that resulted from the nuclear testing, and that there is no expectation of future contamination.
“We have confidence (in the water quality), plus most of the people here get that,” Dolby said.
Federal, state of Nevada, and Nye County representatives along with EM Nevada contractors were on hand to answer questions and engage with the public. Open house participants were able to talk about topics such as computer modeling, hydrology and groundwater sampling at over 100 wells across the NNSS and surrounding federal lands. EM Nevada highlighted additional groundwater monitoring activities.
“Attendees gained insight into our mission progress, latest modeling and sampling data, and learned about the work we do to ensure the safety and security of communities near the NNSS,” said Robert Boehlecke, EM Nevada program manager.
In addition, the event featured displays, posters and videos detailing the intensive work being done to understand groundwater affected by historic underground nuclear testing. Three of four main groundwater regions at the NNSS have been successfully transitioned into long-term monitoring with only the Pahute Mesa groundwater area remaining. The program draws from more than 60 years of data collection to inform its models and projections.
“I was interested in the tritium and if there is any new data on whether tritium is leaking off the test site,” said Amargosa Valley resident George Tucker. “Obviously there isn’t (any leakage). I was adequately impressed.”
EM Nevada Program contractor Navarro Research & Engineering Environmental Scientist Irene Farnham said she fielded many questions from inquisitive local residents.
“The open house provided a great opportunity to let the people of the communities near the Nevada National Security Site know that they are important to us as scientists and that we are working hard to ensure that their drinking water is safe and will be safe for many years to come,” Farnham said.
Beverly Parker is a Community Environmental Monitoring Program project director for the Desert Research Institute. She talked to multiple attendees about the federally funded program that works to protect the environment.
“The event was wonderful,” Parker said.
This was the ninth Groundwater Open House with a nearly three-year hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The event was most recently held in Beatty, Nevada in 2019.
In late October, Navarro Hydrogeologist Jeff Wurtz made a related presentation to middle school students at Amargosa Valley School. Over 50 students packed the classroom to hear Wurtz explain the water table and groundwater system. He also discussed the history of the NNSS and EM Nevada’s mission to characterize the groundwater system and establish a long-term monitoring network on and around the site.
Wurtz also demonstrated a dynamic model resembling an ant farm to illustrate a cross section of water movement underground and how contamination travels in different settings. Watch this video for more about the demonstration.
“Being able to present to students in person and seeing their eyes light up using the model is energizing,” said Wurtz. “These young folks today asked excellent questions and it is encouraging to see their levels of understanding. The use of the model helps reinforce and expand that knowledge.”
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