Oct 08, 2019

Berkeley Pit Wastewater Discharge Released Into Montana Creek

Treated wastewater from Berkeley Pit has finally been discharged into Montana Creek for the first time in decades.

Plastic waste in water

The discharge of treated wastewater from Berkeley Pit into Silver Bow Creek in Butte, Mont. has begun. 

Montana Resources and Atlantic Richfield Co., the two companies leading the initiative, have said they believe this should keep the former open pit copper mine’s water level at its current line of about 5,355 ft forever. This meets the U.S. EPA critical water level standard of 5,410 ft, which would avoid a spill into the city’s groundwater. 

EPA Regional Director Greg Sopkin called the release of water a milestone, given the point of no return deadline of 2023. Berkeley Pit has filled with groundwater since 1982 and is listed as a Superfund cleanup site in 1983 along with about 1,300 of the nation’s contaminated sites. This is the first time in more than three decades that water has been released from the mine site.

According to Bloomberg Environment, a community east of the Superfund site called Mill Creek had been constantly exposed to arsenic, cadmium and lead in their soil. Over the past year, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and Montana’s Department of Health and Human Services (DPHHS) have taken blood and urine samples from residents to determine their exposure to lead and arsenic. 

EPA gave its approval for the companies to begin releasing water after tests showed the water quality met federal and state standards. The release of water into Silver Bow Creek is expected to range between 5.7 mgdy to 10 mgd

“This reflects the significant progress being made toward a final remedy for the Berkeley Pit water and the Silver Bow Creek watershed,” Sopkin said in a statement emailed to the Montana Standard.

In the future, a monitoring station will be placed at the pipe's endpoint so the companies will be able to detect factors such as potential leaks. 

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