Superfund Information Systems: Site Profile

Superfund Site:

DONNA RESERVOIR AND CANAL SYSTEM
DONNA, TX

Cleanup Activities

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Background

The Donna Reservoir and Canal System Superfund site is located in South Texas, south of the City of Donna, near the United States border with Mexico. The City of Alamo is located to the northwest. The site includes the 400-acre Donna Reservoir (also known as “Donna Lake,” “Val Verde Lake,” “Laguna Val Verde,” and “Laguna El Gato”) and a system of lateral lined and unlined canals and piping. It extends north from the Rio Grande River approximately 17 miles with lateral canals that extend approximately 5.6 miles to the east and west. The site is operated by the Donna Irrigation District Hidalgo County Number One (Irrigation District), which provides drinking water to the City of Donna and the North Alamo Water Supply Corporation Plant, and also provides irrigation water for the surrounding predominantly agricultural land. The Irrigation District may also own several portions of the reservoir and canal system. The suspected source of site contamination at the is a concrete siphon which was constructed underneath the Arroyo Colorado River.

 

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What Has Been Done to Clean Up the Site?

The site is being addressed through federal response actions. The remedial investigation and feasibility study (RI/FS) for  the site was completed by the EPA, and the nature and extent of contamination has been determined including the risks posed to human and ecological receptors. The suspected source of contamination is a concrete siphon which was constructed underneath the Arroyo Colorado River. The EPA and the TCEQ are currently working on developing the Proposed Plan for the site. This Proposed Plan will describe the EPA's preferred alternative to site clean up.

 

The EPA first detected PCBs in fish from the Donna Canal in 1993. As a result, a fish possession ban was placed on the reservoir and canal system by the Texas Department of State Heatlh Services. However, people continue to catch and consume the contaminated fish. Access to the canal and reservoir system is not restricted. Signs have been placed along the system notifying the public of the contaminated fish.

The site was listed on the National Priorities List (NPL) in March 2008 due to PCB contamination in sediment and fish. The contamination source was not identified and the nature and extent of contamination were not fully delineated at the time of the EPA’s listing of the Site on the NPL.

The EPA completed the RI/FS and the nature and extent of contamination is determined

The EPA first detected PCBs in fish from the Donna Canal in 1993. As a result, a fish possession ban was placed on the reservoir and canal system by the Texas Department of State Heatlh Services. However, people continue to catch and consume the contaminated fish. Access to the canal and reservoir system is not restricted. Signs have been placed along the system notifying the public of the contaminated fish.

The site was listed on the National Priorities List (NPL) in March 2008 due to PCB contamination in sediment and fish. The contamination source was not identified and the nature and extent of contamination were not fully delineated at the time of the EPA’s listing of the Site on the NPL.

The EPA completed the RI/FS and the nature and extent of contamination is determined

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What Is the Current Site Status?

The RI/FS for the Site has been completed. The EPA and the TCEQ are currently working on developing the Proposed Plan for the Site. This Proposed Plan will describe the EPA's preferred alternative to clean up the Site.

The EPA also conducted fish removal actions in August 2008, February 2009, August 2009, October 2012, and June 2017. These removal actions were conducted through the authority of “Action Memorandums” which stated that “Actual or threatened releases of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants from this site, if not addressed by implementing the response action selected in this Action Memorandum, may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to the public health, welfare, or the environment.”

These fish removal actions involved the removal of several species of fish from the Site (i.e., alligator gar, freshwater drum, common carp, small mouth buffalo, channel catfish, large/small mouth bass, white bass, blue tilapia, shad, and eel, including other species of fish). The purpose of the fish removal actions was to remove fish, from the reservoir and canal system, possibly contaminated with PCBs and which were available for human consumption. These removal actions also created a public awareness campaign which spread the EPA’s following message to the public through newspaper and television media: “Do not eat the fish caught from the Site because they may contain chemicals (i.e., PCBs) that may cause cancer and other health effects.”

These fish removal actions coordinated with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service utilized electroshocking methods. An electrical current was introduced into the water column which resulted in stunning or disorienting the fish. During the time when the fish were disoriented they were netted by boat personnel. Selected whole fish and fillet samples were analyzed in a laboratory for PCBs. Approximately 42,553 fish were removed from the Site during the five fish removal actions.

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Activity and Use Limitations

At this site, activity and use limitations that EPA calls institutional controls are in place. Institutional controls play an important role in site remedies because they reduce exposure to contamination by limiting land or resource use. They also guide human behavior. For instance, zoning restrictions prevent land uses – such as residential uses – that are not consistent with the level of cleanup.

For more background, see Institutional Controls.

The Texas Department of Health (TDH) issued “Aquatic Life Order Number 9” on February 4, 1994. This order stated that “. . . the Donna Irrigation System located in Hidalgo County is declared a prohibited area for the taking of all species of aquatic life.” According to a sign posted by the TDH at Donna Lake there is a $500 fine for the possession of fish from the Site. This sign also states that “Warning, it is illegal to possess fish from this water, fish caught from this water may contain harmful chemicals.” Signs warning the public about the contaminted fish have also been placed by the EPA and the Irrigation District at various locations near the reservoir and canal system.

State Contact (TCEQ): Anna Lund, 210-403-4020, anna.lund@tceq.texas.gov

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Sampling and Monitoring

Environmental data was collected as a part of the RI/FS. This data was used by the EPA to determine the nature and extent of contamination at the site and risks posed to human health and ecological receptors.

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Emergency Response and Removal

The EPA conducted fish removal actions in August 2008, February 2009, August 2009, October 2012, and June 2017. These removal actions were conducted through the authority of “Action Memorandums” which stated that “Actual or threatened releases of hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants from this site, if not addressed by implementing the response action selected in this Action Memorandum, may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to the public health, welfare, or the environment.”

These fish removal actions involved the removal of several species of fish from the Site (i.e., alligator gar, freshwater drum, common carp, small mouth buffalo, channel catfish, large/small mouth bass, white bass, blue tilapia, shad, and eel, including other species of fish). The purpose of the fish removal actions was to remove fish, from the reservoir and canal system, possibly contaminated with PCBs and which were available for human consumption. These removal actions also created a public awareness campaign which spread the EPA’s following message to the public through newspaper and television media: “Do not eat the fish caught from the Site because they may contain chemicals (i.e., PCBs) that may cause cancer and other health effects.”

These fish removal actions coordinated with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service utilized electroshocking methods. An electrical current was introduced into the water column which resulted in stunning or disorienting the fish. During the time when the fish were disoriented they were netted by boat personnel. Selected whole fish and fillet samples were analyzed in a laboratory for PCBs. Approximately 42,553 fish were removed from the Site during the five fish removal actions.

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