Can the inventors of water-saving drip irrigation “solve” the Berkeley Pit?

Can the inventors of water-saving drip irrigation “solve” the Berkeley Pit?

Source: Montana Standard
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Susan Dunlap

If seasons have a theme, this summer for Butte might be labeled the summer of international relations for the Mining City.

A few weeks ago three Zulus arrived to spend the summer in Butte and this week three Israelis, including Israel’s Consul General Andy David, visited Butte’s water infrastructure Tuesday. Democratic Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney also came along for the ride, as did several local officials and local water treatment experts.

The other two Israelis who made the international trip were Raanan Adin, who is head of an Israeli water consulting firm, and his father, professor Avner Adin, who is a distinguished water technology specialist.

David called the Adins “the A team,” on water and said the trip came about because the U.S. and Israel are “close allies.”

“Whatever we can do to help. A successful, strong, prosperous U.S. is in our interest. We want to share what we know if we can be constructive and helpful,” David said.

What the Israelis are experts on is water-saving drip irrigation and desalinization, Raanan told The Montana Standard during a tour of Montana Resources’ Horseshoe Bend Water Treatment Plant Tuesday afternoon. The desert country, located in the Middle East on the Mediterranean Sea, nationalized its water system about a decade ago, Raanan said. The country also came up with a new word, “fertigation,” which is fertilizer combined with drip irrigation. Such a practice increases yield with less water, according to Raanan.

The Israelis appeared impressed by Horseshoe Bend Water Treatment Plant. It is controversial in Butte as some believe it is inadequate and unprepared to handle the pit’s mine waste water when the day comes, in 2023, to pump and treat the pit’s water in perpetuity. Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive Dave Palmer said he is “keeping his fingers crossed” that the Israeli experts could come up with a different plan for the Berkeley Pit.

The current plan, designed by the Environmental Protection Agency, is that Horseshoe Bend Water Treatment Plant will use lime precipitate, a common method of treating mine waste water, on the pit’s water.

A former open-pit copper mine, the Berkeley Pit has been slowly filling with metal and sulfuric-acid laden water since Atlantic Richfield turned off the underground pumps in 1982. When still in operation, the mine went below the groundwater table. EPA declared the Berkeley Pit, Silver Bow Creek, much of the town of Butte and Anaconda Superfund sites shortly after the pit’s pumps were turned off.

Built in 2003, Horseshoe Bend has been treating about five million gallons of contaminated water a day with lime precipitate ever since. That water runs through the mine property naturally. It would flow into the pit if it was not captured.

Once captured and treated, the water is recycled into MR’s mine workings.

“It seems to be doing what it was planned to do,” Raanan said.

Because of the Horseshoe Bend plant, the pit’s water rises at a much slower rate than it would otherwise.

“It’s a very good thing they’re doing, slowing down the filling of the pit,” Raanan said. “This mine is a good example of how the mine and the environment can coexist.”

But Raanan said he would like to learn more, such as how the 10,000 miles of Butte’s underground tunnels send water to the pit.

There are no metal mines in Israel, and almost no mining of any kind there, so mine waste water is an unfamiliar problem to the Israelis.

The Israelis got a full tour of Butte’s water infrastructure. In addition to Horseshoe Bend, they also visited Butte’s new state-of-the-art $30 million dollar Waste Water Treatment Plant and the county’s brand new, high-tech $30 million Basin Creek Water Treatment Plant, south of Butte.

“Such an advanced plant in such a remote location is not typical,” Raanan said of Basin Creek Water Treatment Plant.

Raanan pointed out that the filters in the Basin Creek Water Treatment plant are manufactured by an Israeli firm called Amiad.

Department of Environmental Quality Director Tom Livers said he was impressed by the father-son Adins.

“Everything is a problem to be solved,” Livers said of the water experts.

Cooney, who is from Butte, said that before the Israelis leave, he plans to give them a different view of Butte, including a trip to Butte’s B’Nai Israel Synagogue. He said he wants to “show them what makes Butte Butte.”