BUTTE, Mont.- The next phase in cleaning up toxic waters at the Berkeley Pit in Butte, an open pit copper mine, is about to be underway. Officials say its just one-step in ridding the pit and nearby waterways of metal-laden water that killed more than three thousand geese in 2016.
The plan is to discharge about seven million gallons of treated water from the Berkeley Pit into the Silver Bow Creek. The goal is to prevent rising water levels in the pit, which, if left untreated, could release toxic materials into the area.
"I mean to us, it’s pretty cut and dry. We planned for this; we're not worried about the water quality. Actually, we think it’s going to help."
The Berkeley Pit was declared a Superfund Site in 1983 and remains on the national priority list. A Superfund Site is any land in the U.S. that EPA deems necessary for cleanup because it poses risk to human health and/or to the environment.
A group of girls came all the way from Fairview, Montana for a basketball tournament, but are so fascinated by the site and its hazardous potential, they had to make a pit stop.
"It could affect the whole state. The higher it gets and the more radioactive it becomes, the more dangerous and harder it’s going to become to clean for people,” said Megan Aspeck, a Fairview resident.
Even though some Montanans are hesitant about the process, the Department of Environmental Quality assures the water (that will be dumped into the creek) will be free of toxins and even have beneficial properties.
“It'll be colder water, it'll have more oxygen in it. We get this tremendous grass growth late in the year, which actually causes the stream to come out onto the banks sometimes. We think that colder water is actually going to inhibit those kinds of plant species from growing,” said Chavez.
The project will start within the next year and run for three to four years. It will then be reviewed to determine if it should be made permanent. However, DEQ says this is just one step in cleaning up the site. Currently no one in butte can drill a well for fear poisonous heavy metals will seep into their water supply, a problem that currently has no solution.