Protecting Lake Mead involves managing both the quantity and the quality of the Colorado River water supply. A new groundwater treatment plant in Henderson, Nevada is helping ensure the latter.

Henderson Nevada Groundwater Treatment Plant

The plant is removing perchlorate – a component of rocket fuel – that was first detected in Lake Mead in the late 1990s. The source of the contamination is groundwater and surface water seepage from a nearby perchlorate manufacturing facility originally owned and operated by Kerr-McGee. Contaminated seepage from the facility found its way into Lake Mead via Las Vegas Wash.

Although the issue originated in Nevada, when it comes to water, the adage “what affects Lake Mead affects us all” remains true. So, once Central Arizona Project (CAP) became aware of this issue, it joined Metropolitan Water District (MWD) and Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) in working through the legal process to ensure that remediation costs would be covered by the responsible parties. CAP monitors the water quality in the Colorado River, Lake Mead, and its canal system to ensure a safe water supply. 

The groundwater treatment system, which opened in January, was built through a coordinated effort with SNWA, the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP) and the Nevada Environmental Response Trust. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and NDEP are overseeing the clean-up. The treatment plant cost between $18 million and $25 million to permit and build and was paid for from a $1.1 billion settlement the federal government secured in 2014 from the responsible parties. The U.S. Justice Department has called the settlement the largest recovery for environmental cleanup in history.

The groundwater treatment system is associated with the construction of SNWA’s erosion control structures, called weirs. This facility will keep perchlorate-contaminated groundwater from seeping into Las Vegas Wash, thereby protecting Lake Mead and the Colorado River. It is estimated the clean-up will take about 18 months and will remove up to three tons of perchlorate.

More information about the site and remediation activity is available at: https://ndep.nv.gov/environmental-cleanup/site-cleanup-program/active-cleanup-sites/bmi-complex/nevada-environmental-response-trust-nert

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