by jhwygirl

Did the largest EPA cleanup site in the nation just, like, quadruple in size during spring runoff this year?

That’s the question Vince Devlin of The Missoulian basically lays out there today in an seemingly innocuously titled piece, Thomson Falls Residents Concerned About the Flow of the Milltown Sediment.

Rumblings have certainly been bandied about in the months since spring runoff…but some of the stuff in Devlin’s piece are shocking:

Sonju, the property owner who is also trained as a geologist, says he was working near the dam and watched oddly colored water escape over the top during spring runoff.

“It was this dark, pea-green color,” he says. “If that means heavy metals were coming over the dam, it could affect Noxon Reservoir, Cabinet Gorge Reservoir and even Lake Pend Oreille” in north Idaho.


They may have their work cut out for them. Said Sonju, “How many more times worse is it than their worst-case scenario said it would be?”

“I don’t want to insult anyone,” he went on, “but common sense tells you they’ve already been proven wrong.”

Runoff was definitely the ‘topic du jour’ in the months leading up to this years high water. Weekly reports were put out the EPA noting that they had monitored the situation and there hadn’t been anything out of the ordinary. Recently there were a flood of calls to the Missoula County Health Department with people concerned about whether the Clark Fork was safe enough for their dogs to swim in or safe enough for crop irrigation.

I know what I think. There are plenty of other choices – the Bitterroot, the Lolo, The East Fork of Lolo, etc.

But hey – hopefully Devlin’s story is a call for getting to the truth of the matter. How hard can it be to do some immediate testing? We’ve got health departments, labs – hell, we got a big ole’ university sitting over there on the river. Isn’t there some gumption with some geology or biology or hydrology student to get out there and do some water and sediment samples?

Sounds like John Sonju down there in Thompson Falls might have a couple samples he could provide.

  1. Klemz

    I was wondering when someone over there was going to get on this.

    Funny thing is I asked Forba about this exact possibility in May. I can’t remember what he said–might be interesting to check the notes.

    Now Missoula knows what Butte, Libby, Great Falls, Billings and East Helena already knew: There’s no such thing as a perfect Superfund cleanup.

  2. They were rushing to beat high water and cover up the tailings that were planned to remain.

    I’m surprised at the number of people who don’t realize this, but it’s something like 2/3 of the contaminated stuff will remain. They’re “only” trucking 1/3 of it down to Opportunity (which is more than those folks want, to be fair).

    There were many questioning this quite early – how much of a flood can the project withstand? What if we get a 100 year event? A 500 year event?

    I think they said they were planning for a 500 year event…That we’d need to not have a large event for a certain amount of time after all was said and done to ensure that all the contaminated stuff stayed put. It will eventually ‘seat’ in. But go back to what I said at the top – they were rushing to beat the rising waters.

    Did you write something on this, Klemz?

  3. Jim Lang

    Of course you’ll never get a perfect cleanup, and of course sediments are going to pile up behind dams. I still think the removal of Milltown Dam and the bulk of contaminated sediment collected behind it was the best course of action, however.

  4. Matthew Koehler

    “it’s something like 2/3 of the contaminated stuff will remain.”

    It’s my understanding that AIG holds the insurance policy on the remaining contaminated stuff.

  5. the bugs tell the story. ask any outfitter or guide and they will tell you that the hatches are all screwed up from the dam down to st regis.
    as far as fish kills i haven’t heard of any.
    something is messed up though- that is for sure and i think that vince touched a nerve here that some bureaucrats would like to give a shot of novacaine. how bout it outfitters and guides, any opinions? Grizzly hackle has had great success with clients on the clark fork in the past. i would like to hear how this year is doing? Kingfisher? Missoulian Angler?

  6. I don’t know problembear. I’ve heard it told that only the cockroaches would survive a nuclear holocaust.

    And i’m pretty sure they expected fish to be killed in the breach. There was simply too much sediment to not allow for it.

  7. Klemz

    Not presactly. This was one of 20 issues that didn’t make it into the final draft of a Superfund cover earlier this summer. You could easily write book on the topic.

    I was told that there was a chance that some buildup could occur in Noxxon, but, at the time, arsenic readings were lower. I heard of this recent development maybe a month ago. It’s pretty shocking, but at the same time–not really. Some arsenicy sediment in an arsenicy river went from one reservoir to another. There’s so much of this stuff all they can really do is move it around, whether by accident or on purpose. We’re all exposed to the same co-carcinogen.

    I confirmed that AIG has the insurance policy on the sediments (with ARCO not the state), but considering that they got the bailout, I’m not sure what that means.

  1. 1 MT Dept. of Agriculture Water Testing Finds Bad Stuff « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] This recent revelation by the Ravalli Republic and MDA does have me wondering – How many groundwater monitoring wells do we have here in Missoula? Who is monitoring them? How often are they monitored? What are the recent results? I mean – when Peter Nielsen declared, in September (late summer, folks) that the Clark Fork was “safe” for pets – was he just referring to arsenic levels (which are – to remind you – at question, regardless of what DEQ, EPA and County officials are tellin…)? […]

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