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where we’re at

July 15, 2010

Here’s a Google Maps aerial view of Opportunity, Montana (the roaded green area at the bottom of the triangle formed by Interstate 90, to the east, Montana Highway 1, to the southwest, and MT 48, to the northwest).

The bleached-looking white area near the top of the triangle is the BP-ARCO Waste Repository, formerly known as “Opportunity Ponds.” This is where mining waste from the Anaconda Company copper smelter in nearby Anaconda was dumped for half a century, and where similar tailings waste from the reclamation of related Superfund sites upstream on Silver Bow Creek and downstream near Missoula is also being stored.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 19, 2010 7:27 pm

    Great Blog Brad!

    So, what’s the body of water to the east of the Opportunity Ponds, and does it flow into anything? Could the waste from the ponds be flushed back into surface water and then flow back downstream?

  2. bradtyer permalink
    August 19, 2010 7:59 pm

    That big body of water to the east of Opportunity Ponds, just across 90, is the Warm Springs Ponds complex (which is a series of settling ponds filled with three times the toxic sediment as was piled up behind Milltown Dam, though since there’s no community well water for it to seep into there, it’s a Wildlife Management Area instead of a Superfund site (!)). The Clark Fork, sometimes still called Silver Bow Creek at that point, flows into the southern end of the ponds through a lime treatment facility (to reduce acidity), and out the northern end through a spillway to join the Mill-Willow Bypass (that squiggly channel sandwiched between I90 and the Ponds) to reform the Clark Fork.

    Could the Opportunity waste be flushed into the surface water? I’d think the Clark Fork would have to flood mightily to top the levees “containing” either the Opportunity Ponds or the Warm Springs Ponds. A 1989 flood did blow out the Warm Springs Ponds, flushing sediments into the river and causing a massive fish kill, leading to a large-scale reconstruction of the WS Ponds and Mill-Willow Bypass in the early 90s, but I’ve never heard of the Opportunity Ponds – which aren’t actually “ponds” so much as pits full of dry tailings – flooding out. Whether the metal contamination in the Opportunity Ponds can seep underground into the river I also don’t know. Yet.

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