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Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake

Environmental Restoration Program Public Website

This website provides background information on the U.S. Navy’s Environmental Restoration Program (ERP) sites at Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS) China Lake. The overarching goal of the Navy’s ERP is to protect human health and the environment from past hazardous waste practices and releases at Navy and Marine Corps Installation Restoration Program (IRP) sites. The Navy’s ERP at NAWS China Lake is managed by the Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command Southwest in San Diego, California. The Navy’s ERP has identified five Operable Units (OUs), 87 Installation Restoration Program (IRP) sites, five Munitions Response Program (MRP) sites, ten Underground Storage Tanks (USTs), and 67 Areas of Concern (AOCs). Of these sites, all OUs and MRP sites, 74 of the 87 IRP sites, three of the ten UST sites, and 62 of the 67 AOC sites are currently undergoing investigations or remedial actions.

Congress passed the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) in 1976, the first of the major statutes enacted that addresses environmental issues at Navy installations. It was designed to manage disposal of wastes which were being generated and as such addresses corrective actions for leaking USTs that used to contain fuels and other petroleum products. The management of hazardous substances at operating facilities is also regulated under RCRA and evaluated through RCRA facility assessments. A few NAWS China Lake sites in the Navy’s ERP were first evaluated under RCRA and later transferred to the CERCLA program. Conversely, sites found to still be in use may be transferred from the ERP to the RCRA program.

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) also known as Superfund, was established in 1980 to provide a mechanism for the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to clean up sites contaminated with hazardous waste and prevent contamination of future sites by assigning liability to responsible parties. The NAWS China Lake IRP sites identified for the Navy’s ERP have been or are currently being addressed under CERCLA.

In 1986, the legislation was amended through the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA). Among other changes, SARA established the Defense Environmental Restoration Program (DERP) which is managed by the Office of the Deputy Under-Secretary of Defense, Installations and Environment. The DERP cleans up hazardous substances, pollutants, contaminants, and military munitions remaining from past activities at military installations and formerly used defense sites.

The Navy is the current landowner of NAWS China Lake and the lead federal agency working with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and Regional Water Quality Control Board, in accordance with the CERCLA process to collect and evaluate environmental data addressing issues related to past releases at each IRP and MRP site. The California Department of Toxic Substances Control is the lead regulatory agency and the Regional Water Quality Control Board is a supporting regulatory agency for the Navy’s ERP at NAWS China Lake.

NAWS China Lake History

NAWS China Lake began with the establishment of the Naval Ordnance Test Station at China Lake in 1943 and has since expanded in support of Department of Defense and Navy research, development, testing, and evaluation mission for air warfare systems. The initial function of the installation was threefold: (1) to support the rocket development projects then being conducted at the California Institute of Technology for the World War II Office of Scientific Research and Development, (2) to test air-launched rocket weapons, and (3) to furnish primary training in the use of those weapons.

NAWS China Lake consists of two major areas identified as the China Lake Complex (North Range), and located approximately 12 miles southeast of the China Lake Complex boundary, the Randsburg Wash/Mojave B Complex (South Range). The China Lake Complex contains most of the active range and test facilities and includes the “Mainsite” area, which contains the base headquarters, main laboratory, public works complexes, and the base support community. The Randsburg Wash/Mojave B Complex contains additional active ranges used for air warfare testing and training. Together, the China Lake and Randsburg Wash/Mojave B Complexes comprise approximately 1,700 square miles or 4,402 square kilometers.

In January 1992, as a result of Navy-wide organizational consolidation and streamlining, the Naval Weapons Center at NAWS China Lake was officially combined with the test and evaluation functions of three other Navy activities to form the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, headquartered at NAWS China Lake. The mission of division at NAWS China Lake is to be the Navy's full-spectrum research, development, testing, evaluation, and in-service engineering center for the weapons systems including air warfare exclusive of anti-submarine warfare systems, missiles, missile subsystems, aircraft weapons integration, and assigned airborne electronic warfare systems. Testing and training functions on-station include munitions delivery, tactics, electronic warfare, and Special Forces training. The Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division also operates and maintains air, land, and sea ranges, and manages all station lands while maintaining environmental compliance and exercising responsible stewardship of public lands.

Environmental Restoration Program Background

Environmental investigations and restoration activities have been ongoing at NAWS China Lake since the mid-1980s, when the first 79 IRP sites were identified. Since then, eight more IRP sites have been identified. Of these sites, 74 are currently open, three were transferred from or within the ERP to other programs, three are closed, and seven have closure pending.

As mandated by the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2002, the DoD developed the Military Munitions Response Program to address military munitions under the DERP. This program, currently referred to as the MRP, was initiated specifically to address unexploded ordnance, discarded military munitions, and associated chemical residues referred to as munitions constituents on current and former military installations. In 2003 and 2004, five MRP sites were identified at the station. Currently, all five of the MRP sites are open.

Authority for the UST program resides with the California State Water Resources Control Board in accordance with the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act. Reporting of leaks or releases is generally followed by initial abatement or other interim response, after which a site assessment is performed to define the nature and extent of contamination in soil and groundwater. A corrective action plan is then prepared and implemented, followed by verification monitoring or closure. There are a total of ten USTs within the jurisdiction of NAWS China Lake. Three of the UST sites are open, two USTS sites have been transferred to other environmental programs, and five UST sites were successfully closed under California UST regulations with the concurrence of the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

To identify further areas where releases of hazardous substances may have occurred, the Navy reviewed additional records from 1998 to 2001, initially resulting in the designation of 60 AOCs for further action. Following the initial designations, seven additional AOCs were identified for further investigation. Currently, five AOCs have been transferred and 62 remain open.

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