Montana’s Water Quality Wins One and Loses One

by jhwygirl

Bob Gentry over at Left in the West has a great breakdown of the failures of DEQ in permitting the Rock Creek silver mine which has been proposed for the Cabinet Mountains.

Montana Supreme Court threw out DEQ’s permit – remanding it back to the district court that had ruled in its favor – saying that failure to do a comprehensive nondegradation review of water quality and relying on a water treatment facility was a violation of state law. The court went on further to question DEQ’s reliance on a treatment facility that would essentially be needed forever, while failing to recognize that perpetual need. The court continued and even further, criticizing DEQ for placing an arbitrary bonding amount on said treatment facility without factoring in maintenance and the companies ability to maintain responsibility over the treatment facility which was key to DEQ’s original decision to waive off the water quality degradation review.

Aye yi yi…as I’ve said before: It makes me wonder what we don’t hear about.

Meanwhile, a blowout of the Big Dick Mine near Garrison – which happened sometime around Thanksgiving – has officials tasked with a problem to which they really haven’t even been able to grasp since it’s discovery just over two weeks ago.

The Big Dick Mine produced gold, silver, lead and other metals from 1905 until the ’40’s..and may have been opened up again in the ’70’s and ’80’s. In closing the mine, DEQ required that an earthen core be used to close the mine (according to the permit.) It is that earthen core that blew out once pressure built as water built up internally.

The mine is #68 on the state’s Abandoned Mine Priority List. There are over 300 mines on the list.

Check out the thumbnail pictures on the right – the second one from the top shows the force with which the mine blew.

At the first inspection, the force of he mine had destroyed a nearby road, knocked over some nearby buildings, and had contaminated 3 miles of the Little Blackfoot River. A waist-deep channel has been carved into the mountain, and the bright orange crap continues to flow at a rate of 5 to 20 gallons per minute.


The Little Blackfoot is that lovely little river that most people are familiar with as it snakes it way along Highway 12 on the way from Garrison to Helena. Fabulous for fishing, I saw 4 bald eagles fishing its waters this week. There is also a tremendous amount of agricultural activity along the river, with cattle ranchers relying on its waters for their agricultural operations.

Then again, I’ve told ya’all before – don’t kid yourself into thinking that Montana is an agricentric state anymore. We’ve got priorities, and they don’t include water for ag producers.

The blow out of this mine should raise concerns for water quality aficionados from Mineral, Missoula, Granite, Powell, Lewis & Clark and Lincoln counties, just to name a few. How many mines were filled with earthen cores without inspection to see whether subsurface water sources had been disturbed?

As precious metals rise in value, mining has increased in the area. How many of you all know that? How much scrutiny and monitoring is given to these mines? Does DEQ even have sufficient personnel to monitor this stuff?

What is a mine operators responsibility over these issues – and do they have any responsibility, given that the recent Montana Supreme Court decision shed light on DEQ’s arbitrary bonding amount requirements, and even worse, DEQ’s failure to require comprehensive degradation reviews.

It seems to me that ongoing monitoring is needed when someone (i.e., a mine operator) goes drilling into the earth. Water sources can be directly or indirectly disturbed, and without ongoing monitoring – and comprehensive inspection prior to closing – bad things can happen.

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