Butte companies monitor Berkeley Pit water levelsNews Type: State Source: NBC Montana
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BUTTE, Mont. – The Berkeley Pit is just 68 feet away from reaching what managers call a critical water level.
It’s no surprise Butte residents are worried.
“The water level is getting more and more toxic, and it’s rising. It was at the cresting point five years ago,” Butte resident David Eason said.
According to EPA remedial project manager Nikia Greene, that concern is misplaced. He said the pit overflowing is a common misperception.
“The lowest elevation in the valley is right down here at Butte Treatment Lagoons. They are at an elevation of 5,410, and that is the current water elevation in the Berkeley Pit,” Greene said. “Currently the surface of the Berkeley Pit is 68 feet below the critical water level. So imagine if you were standing here at the lowest point in the valley you’re actually standing and looking down another 68 feet to the surface of this pit.
Greene said there is no chance of the pit overflowing. He said it’s part of the remedy.
The good news is that the pit flows from the alluvial aquifer to the pit, so drinking water will not be affected.
Butte Mine Flooding Operable Unit manager Daryl Reed said Butte get its drinking water from surrounding reservoirs. Those reservoirs include the Basin Creek, Molten and Big Hole.
The bad news, according to officials, is if the pit water does reach its critical point it could change direction and flow into Silver Bow Creek. That could mean death for a multitude of fish and other wildlife.
But Reed’s confident that’s not going to happen.
“The only people that are exposed to the Berkeley Pit are the miners at Montana Resources. We don’t consider that there’s a risk to the Berkeley Pit water,” Reed said.
Reed said a water treatment plant was built in 2003 to help take out metals in the water.
Officials estimate pit water will reach its critical level around 2023. By that time full-scale pumping at the treatment plant will start.
For Eason it doesn’t seem doable.
“If it actually does erupt, which it will eventually, it’s going to take out two-thirds of the town here in the lower sections. Then you’ve got to worry about the cleanup work. People are going to lose major properties, and there’s going to be major lawsuits,” Eason said.
But pit officials say they’re confident the job will get done. They say Montana Resources and the Atlantic Richfield Company have established an EPA-approved schedule to monitor the Berkeley Pit’s water levels.
Officials said water levels rise about 7 feet every year.
Final testing will occur between 2021 and 2023. In that case pumping will begin. The treatment plant could pump 8 million gallons per day.