For over 23 years, I worked to educate people about groundwater and related natural resources through the programs and projects of the Groundwater Foundation. On June 13, 2010, the Lincoln Journal Star profiled two education programs, Water Fest and Nature Explore. These programs, like those of the Groundwater Foundation, help people appreciate and protect natural resources. To me it was poignant to read about these efforts while in the same issue, Art Hovey wrote at length about another project that could contaminate, perhaps forever, a large portion the Ogallala Aquifer--one of the very natural resources all of us have worked so hard to protect for so many years.
The Ogallala Aquifer contains approximately 2/3 of the volume of the High Plains system and is considered one of the great fresh water resources of the world. The aquifer provides the ecological underpinning of the largest sand dune area in North America, the Nebraska Sand Hills, and the entire system recharges lakes, streams and wet meadows throughout the region.
The porosity and transmissivity of this system is very high and a leaking pipe--especially a buried one would cause instant and widespread damage to the quality of the groundwater. The pollution plume would spread indefinitely and the threat would grow as the plume traveled.
In addition, TransCanada has decided to use thinner than usual pipe and pump slurry at higher than normal pressures. These conditions increase the risk of a leak. Engineered projects have inherent challenges and pipes are notorious for structural weaknesses--note leaks in the Alaska oil pipeline and the current tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico. If asked six months ago, I am certain BP would have issued reassuring statements about the safety of off-shore drilling.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers pollution prevention the only viable management strategy for groundwater and this buried pipeline represents a direct assault on this principle. The health risks to the population that rely on the aquifer for drinking are unacceptably high and public benefit is at peril should the project go forward as planned.
The pipeline could be placed above ground where leaks and problems are more readily recognized and addressed. In addition, the route could be modified so the pipeline does not go though one of our country's greatest natural treasures. To stand by and let this project go forward ignores these risks and promotes a future environmental tragedy.
Susan S. Seacrest, President emeritus
The Groundwater Foundation