A new and deeper drinking water well became fully operational in July for the Lincoln Avenue Water Company (LAWC). The new well, funded and constructed by NASA, enhances groundwater cleanup efforts and helps maintain effective containment of the leading edge of groundwater chemicals that originated from long-discontinued waste disposal practices at JPL. The well also serves as a modern, reliable backup for the LAWC, ensuring for its customers continued clean drinking water supplies for many decades. A factsheet on the well was published in April 2014 as construction began.
Groundwater Cleanup Project Director Steve Slaten has won a prestigious 2017 NASA Blue Marble Award, recognizing his “exceptional leadership” and “innovative solutions to successfully remediate NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) groundwater.” >>
Community Outreach and Public Involvement Are Essential to an Effective Cleanup
[This factsheet is part of NASA’s effort to keep the public informed about the progress of groundwater cleanup efforts at and in the vicinity of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.]
Community outreach and public involvement are integral components of the groundwater cleanup project at and near NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Both outreach and involvement are essential to an effective cleanup.
The cleanup addresses groundwater chemicals that originated during the 1940s and 1950s when liquid wastes generated at JPL were disposed of into seepage pits, a long-discontinued practice considered common at the time. In 1992, JPL was officially listed as a so-called “Superfund” cleanup site. Since then, NASA has been following the complex process required at federal cleanup sites under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). This process involved first investigating and – after an evaluation of various remedies – implementing extensive cleanup of soil at JPL and groundwater chemicals deep beneath and in areas adjacent to JPL.
In all those years, NASA has held fast to its commitments: to clean up the chemicals, to practice community outreach and encourage public involvement during the cleanup.
The cleanup is progressing on schedule, thanks to three NASA-funded treatment systems – on-JPL at the source area, at the mid-point of the affected area using four drinking water wells in the Arroyo Seco operated by Pasadena Water & Power (PWP), and at wells operated by the Lincoln Avenue Water Company (LAWC) in Altadena, at the far reaches of the affected area.
Community outreach over the years and public involvement in the project have provided it with significant support, according to NASA Cleanup Director Steve Slaten. “Our outreach and public involvement efforts,” he explained, “have resulted in a project that has gone quite smoothly in terms of addressing community concerns, in listening to public feedback, and in addressing the technical aspects of the cleanup.”
Early in the project, a website (https://jplwater.nasa.gov
) was created for the project, which offers an opportunity for public questions and comments. Technical and other cleanup-related documents are regularly posted to the site for all to see. For example, every three months NASA posts groundwater chemical level results from 25 NASA monitoring wells that cover virtually the entire affected area both on- and off-JPL property. Consulting those quarterly reports provides a transparent means to view the cleanup’s progress, as do the annual “Year in Review” documents that discuss progress made from year to year in removing unwanted chemicals from the groundwater.
Many other technical and “outreach” documents from over the years are also available on the website including NASA factsheets on a variety of technical and other topics, displays that were created by NASA for public meetings, and a number of cleanup project newsletters that were distributed in print and via email to many hundreds of neighbors and other stakeholders. Several of the newsletters included Spanish translations of key stories.
NASA has held and/or staffed a dozen public meetings and has solicited public comment in advance of every key cleanup decision that NASA has made along the way. “It’s important,” according to Merrilee Fellows, NASA’s Manager of Community Involvement, “to seek public collaboration and to keep the public informed as much as possible about a project that could impact our neighbors. Transparency is key.”
In addition, small group meetings, tours of the cleanup project facilities for area water purveyors and regulators, and one-on-one contacts with neighbors and other stakeholders continue to be a vital part of NASA’s outreach and public involvement effort. Even during the coronavirus pandemic, when most work on-site at JPL was delayed, the cleanup and corresponding outreach efforts continued remotely.
As for the future, in the words of Project Manager Slaten, “Our commitments to the cleanup and to public outreach and involvement are being carried out in great detail, and we are very proud of the public’s acceptance of our work. Even during the coronavirus period, we are available by phone or video chat at any time. We won’t rest on those cleanup and public involvement commitments, until the project is complete.
JPL Groundwater Cleanup Project Director Steve Slaten has won a prestigious 2017 NASA Blue Marble Award, recognizing his “exceptional leadership … in implementing NASA's mission and vision while understanding and protecting the home planet and improving the quality of life on Earth.” Slaten was cited for his “innovative solutions to successfully remediate NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) groundwater.” The groundwater beneath and in the vicinity of JPL was affected by chemicals associated with historic and long-discontinued waste disposal practices at JPL. NASA is committed to cleaning up the groundwater and has funded three groundwater treatment systems to do the job – at the JPL source area, at the farthest reaches of the affected area at wells operated in Altadena by the Lincoln Avenue Water Company, and at roughly the midpoint of the affected area on City of Pasadena-owned property adjacent to the Windsor Reservoir.
In honoring Slaten, NASA said that he “spearheaded a collaborative approach to remediate groundwater contamination in partnership with the local water purveyors. He recognized that implementing and operating offsite cleanup systems would necessitate intense cooperation with water purveyors and permitting agencies,” and “the value and importance of public outreach. … Slaten was successful in gaining regulatory agreement for completion of this important cleanup. At the same time, he implemented key initiatives to reduce water use and increase the use of renewable resources, including energy optimization through reduced pumping requirements, innovative contracting initiatives, recycling 95 percent of the waste generated during construction of Pasadena’s treatment plant, using native, drought-tolerant plant species to landscape the new treatment plant, and recycling plant wastewater. He also championed the installation of a 564-kilowatt PV [photovoltaic] system at the Windsor Reservoir facility adjacent to the Monk Hill Treatment System.” The facility generates sufficient energy to offset all of the annual electricity consumed at the Windsor Reservoir site.
Slaten received his award in early April at NASA’s 2017 Environmental Conference, held at Johnson Space Center in Houston. He credited the support of NASA management, local officials and regulators, his team of contractors, and NASA Manager for Community Involvement Merrilee Fellows for her role in community outreach.