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EPA Proposes Waiving State Water Quality Standards In Butte

Silver Bow Creek in Butte, Montana.
Nora Saks
Montana Public Radio
Silver Bow Creek in Butte, Montana.

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to waive state water quality standards for a portion of Butte’s Superfund cleanup.

If the final Superfund cleanup deal currently being negotiated in Butte goes through, extensive work is planned to clean up and protect the major creek corridors in town.

Historic mine waste will be removed. The creeks will be reconstructed. And numerous basins will be installed at the bottom of the Butte hill to catch dirty stormwater running off it.

But, “Even if we do all these things, we’re still not going to meet the state water quality standards for copper and zinc during storm events,” says Nikia Greene, the local EPA project manager.

On Monday, EPA released a 3,000-page technical report evaluating options for controlling contaminants and complying with aquatic life standards in Butte’s creeks.

It concludes that while the cleanup actions will reduce heavy metal loading, when there are big storm events, it will be necessary to waive some state water quality standards and replace them with federal standards. Greene says the federal measure is not less stringent, it’s just different.

“In my opinion, they’re both protective. We’re not just waiving it and forgetting about it. It’s actually being waived to the federal dissolved standard.”

But not everyone in Butte agrees with EPA’s assessment. One community activist called the proposed water quality waiver a “slap in the face.”

This evaluation is the foundation of the proposed plan that EPA expects to release in mid-December, which will trigger a formal public comment period and public meetings. If adopted, the water quality standards will modify Butte’s existing cleanup plan.

EPA’s Nikia Greene said they shared this document ahead of time in order to give the community more time to digest it.

You can find more detail on the EPA website.

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