ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - Workers flipped the switch Wednesday morning to pump 70,000 gallons of contaminated water from beneath a parking lot just outside of Kirtland Air Force Base to nearby tanks for treatment.
It's the first time since a massive jet-fuel spill was discovered on base in 1999 that crews have conducted a large-scale test on a system for pumping and cleaning up contaminated groundwater. Data from the test will help with future decisions about how to best handle the cleanup.
Representatives of the state Environment Department, KAFB and the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority held a news conference to highlight the milestone.
State officials recently pushed forward a new timeline for the cleanup. Wednesday's test fulfilled the first deadline.
"We simply cannot allow this spill to contaminate Albuquerque's drinking water," said Secretary Ryan Flynn of the New Mexico Environment Department, which is overseeing the cleanup.
The 70,000 gallons will be filtered and treated to determine if the pump-and-treat method is viable for cleaning up the spill, how the aquifer reacts to the heavy pumping and to help develop a final remedy for the massive spill.
Another million or so gallons will be pumped by the end of November. The Air Force is still waiting on permitting, but the treated water will likely be used to water grounds on the base.
"This is going to be a long-term cleanup operation. We're talking decades," Flynn said. "It took 30 years to make this mess, and it's going to take more than a couple of years to clean up."
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