Protecting Our Headwaters: Proposed Mining in the Smith Watershed

How many of you have visited the epic Smith River in West-Central Montana? We have, and we treasure not just the scenic viewshed and untarnished landscapes, but especially the Smith’s clean water.

Headwaters of the Smith – including seeps, springs, and groundwater from the mountainous terrain outside White Sulfur Springs – provide critical inflows of clean water for the mainstem Smith, not to mention these pure headwaters support important wildlife and aquatic habitat.

These headwaters, and the Smith itself, is threatened by a new proposal from Tintina Resources. This corporation is proposing to mine copper and silver  near Sheep Creek, a headwater of the Smith River, north of White Sulfur Springs. Specifically, the company is proposing to amend its prospecting permit – which typically allows very limited land use disturbance – to allow it to dig an 18 foot-by-18 foot, 1 mile long tunnel into very acidic rock, where the company hopes metals lie.

The problem with this proposed permit amendment is that developing this mine shaft is almost guaranteed to result in lowering local groundwater supplies, meaning the already drought-prone Smith and its fisheries will feel further water quantity strains during hot summer months. Even worse, mining of any type in sulfide-bearing ores almost always results in acidic water being discharged which, in turn, will poison the Smith River. The Montana DEQ  failed to perform the necessary type of in-depth, probing, scientific review that such a polluting project needs BEFORE authorizing Tintina to dig! Not “looking before you leap” is exactly the type of poor decisionmaking that has already saddled Montana’s citizens with costly environmental clean-ups.

In response Upper Missouri Waterkeeper submitted this comment letter to DEQ last Monday, August 26 2013, explaining the need for more scientific investigation and review before any decisions are made. Keep tuned as we continue to watchdog this and like polluting permits in the Upper Missouri River Basin.