Montana Public Radio

Silver Bow Creek

This culvert and forebay pictured on May 28, 2019 are part of Butte's stormwater capture and treatment system, which will be expanded and completed in the  Superfund cleanup plan.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

A final deal signed by a federal judge this week outlining cleanup of century old mining waste in Butte means there’s going to be a flurry of work happening in the center of town. 

U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon on Wednesday gave his final stamp of approval to an overarching Superfund cleanup deal for the Butte Hill and its headwater streams below.

After reporting on Superfund for several years, it’s obvious to me that everyone here wants the best possible cleanup for their town. And, there are very different definitions of what that means.

A lot of folks in Butte are fired up about bringing a stretch of the long-dead Silver Bow Creek back to life. And on the surface, I get it. Superfund is huge and complicated, full of thousands of pages of technical documents, and abstract legal requirements like water quality standards. Whereas a beautiful free flowing stream? That’s something tangible, easy to get jazzed up about.

Project Manager Elizabeth Erickson with Water and Environmental Technologies presents the results of their Silver Bow Creek restoration study in Butte, Jan. 14, 2020.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

A new study says it’s possible to rebuild a creek — destroyed by decades of mining — that once flowed through Butte. But it won’t be easy and it won’t come cheap.

This section of Silver Bow Creek that runs through Slag Canyon in Butte will be rerouted in EPA's "proposed plan" for changes to the 2006 Record of Decision.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

A copper mining company and Butte-Silver Bow county agreed this week to a plan to pump more cold, clean water into local creeks. While the company and county call the deal a win-win, some are concerned about the downstream impacts.

Mine headframes in uptown Butte, MT.
Josh Burnham

This week, the parties in charge of the Superfund cleanup of the Butte Hill and urban creek corridors agreed on a final cleanup deal, marking a turning point in the Mining City’s decades long Superfund saga.

Treated water originating from the Berkeley Pit is discharged into Silver Bow Creek via a 24 inch buried pipe behind these rocks and manhole, Sept. 30, 2019.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

This week, for the first time ever, once toxic water from the Berkeley Pit, the abandoned open pit copper mine in Butte, is being treated and released into the headwaters of the Clark Fork River.

Tim Hilmo (L), Ron Halsey (M) and Greg Frisch (R) with Atlantic Richfield company stand in front of the point where treated water originating in the Berkeley Pit is being discharged into Silver Bow Creek in Butte. September 30, 2019.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

For the first time ever, once-toxic water from the Berkeley Pit, Butte’s abandoned open pit copper mine, is being pumped, treated and discharged into Silver Bow Creek.

Those awaiting the final Superfund cleanup deal, or consent decree, for the Butte Hill and urban Silver Bow Creek corridor are going to have to wait a little longer.

From Evel Knievel to a 'Great Flood' and on to the dawning of the Superfund era, Episode 5 looks at the origins of the government program designed to force whoever made the mess to clean it up.

AR's operations manager, Ron Halsey, stands in front of the intake pipe that siphons water originating indirectly from the Berkeley Pit into this new water polishing plant. August 6, 2019.
Nora Saks / Montana Public Radio

37 years ago, Atlantic Richfield abandoned an open pit copper mine in Butte and allowed it to flood with toxic mine water. Now, the company estimates they’re one month away from proving they’re in control of the Berkeley Pit. MTPR's Nora Saks got a sneak peek of their new water treatment facility and has more.

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