Tell the DEQ that Colstrip deserves cleanup done right! (Units 1&2)

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 Winter, 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 pending 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.

WHY IS DEWATERING IMPORTANT?

Dewatering the ponds is the first step in long-term groundwater protection. Coal ash contains sulfates and heavy metals which are dangerous to humans, wildlife, and livestock. When stored wet in tailings ponds, coal ash leaks this pollution out through the ground and into local aquifers. These aquifers support agricultural producers in the area and feed the springs, wells, and creeks of the wider watershed. The DEQ estimates the leakage from the Units 1 & 2 ponds to be over 50,000 gallons of polluted water each day.

Wet coal ash is also heavy, and the pressure of millions of tons on the pond’s liners forces pollution through this protective barrier. Draining the ponds will release this pressure and keep pollution contained within the ash impoundment.


Please submit a comment/letter to the Montana DEQ regarding cleanup plans for the Colstrip Units 1 & 2 ash pond complex by December 14, 2019. Feel free to personalize your letter in whatever way seems appropriate to you–personal stories are strongly encouraged. Thank you! (More information on this issue found below the comment form.)

After personalizing your message (optional) in the box below, fill in the contact fields and click “Submit.”

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