WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH COLSTRIP’S ASH PONDS?
It’s an old story in Montana — Butte, Libby, Mill Creek, Zortman-Landusky — corporations shut down overnight and leave the communities that supported them to face job losses and legacy pollution.
This Fall, the Montana DEQ will decide on a long-term cleanup plan to address the groundwater contamination plume resulting from 40 years of leakage from Colstrip’s coal ash ponds. With the closure of Colstrip Units 1 & 2 in January 2020, a responsible cleanup plan approved by the DEQ would bring hundreds of jobs to the area, restore water quality to area ranchers, and protect future taxpayers from financing a state-funded cleanup.
The DEQ’s decision must provide a permanent fix to the 367 GALLONS of polluted water that leak EVERY MINUTE from the 837-acre coal ash pond complexes outside the power plant. The companies are lobbying to simply “cap” the ponds in place, but a permanent fix involves removing all coal ash in contact with the groundwater. The DEQ’s decision will impact local ranchers, power plant workers, and taxpayers around the state.
WHY IS EXCAVATION IMPORTANT?
The bottom 10-30 feet of the 1&2 ponds are submerged in groundwater. No matter what liner is beneath the ponds, water will run through the bottom layers of coal ash, pick up heavy metals and sulfates, and spread these pollutants out into the aquifer.
The only proven way to control future releases of heavy metals and sulfates in this situation is to physically dig the ponds up. Digging up — or excavating — coal ash is a straightforward solution that removes the ash from the groundwater, eliminating the source of pollution. After excavating the coal ash, it must be moved to a lined landfill HIGH above the water table (“high and dry”) to prevent future contamination. Talen Energy has adjacent properties at the Colstrip 1 & 2 ponds where a new landfill could be constructed. The 1 & 2 ponds are currently sited in a valley that has been dammed up to form a giant reservoir. A “high and dry” solution is the only way to prevent long-term pollutants from being released to the aquifer.