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The beginning of pumping water from the Berkeley Pit is good news for everyone.

In the midst of many issues, events and controversies on the Butte Hill – Superfund negotiations, technical impracticability waivers of water quality standards, the removal of the Parrot tailings, testy exchanges about the subdrain groundwater capture system, and even testier exchanges about plans, or the lack thereof, for a restored creek – Montana Resources should get credit from one and all. This shows that the company is prepared to make good on a significant challenge – their part in controlling the level of polluted mine-flooding and groundwater constantly draining into the Pit.

By turning on the system and taking treated water to the Yankee Doodle tailings pond, MR has demonstrated that it has all but completed its end of the partnership with Atlantic Richfield on this vital task. For its part, Atlantic Richfield is expecting completion of the “polishing plant,” a final-stage treatment facility it is building near the Pit viewing stand, sometime in June. That means the entire system should be operating by July – some four years ahead of the schedule outlined in the mine flooding unit’s consent decree, and years before the Pit and other mind-flooding waters reach critical level.

Of course, “in perpetuity” is a long time, but it is extremely important that the system was shown to be robust enough to get started.

Still to come are some major tussles over just where, how and when the treated water will flow into Silver Bow Creek. Contentious as they will be, those discussions will help to determine the quality of  the restored environment Butte ends up with.

But this first milestone, everybody can agree, is very good news. Thanks go to Montana Resources, and we eagerly await next steps.

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