This report evaluated the adequacy of water quality predictions and reclamation bonds at modern hardrock mines in Montana. Based on a review of government documents, water quality predictions made during mine permitting were wrong at 11 out of 12 mines (91.7% of mines). Not only were water quality predictions incorrect in nearly every case, but the water quality impacts were often severe, including contamination of drinking water, loss of fish and wildlife habitat, harm to private property and agricultural lands, and the formation of acid mine drainage that will cause lasting pollution that requires water treatment in perpetuity.
This research also found that reclamation bonds are inadequate to cover clean-up costs at 42% of the mines (Beal, Zortman Landusky, Basin Creek, Kendall, Montana Tunnels). This has resulted in roughly $50 million in expenditures of state and federal funds and another $20 million set aside in a state trust for Zortman Landusky. It has also resulted in an ongoing liability for unfunded clean-up costs of $78.9 – $103.8 million, with an additional $1.9 million per year in perpetuity for ongoing water treatment costs at Zortman and Beal.
These results paint a clear picture. The laws that govern mining are inadequate to protect our clean water from mine pollution. Stronger laws and oversight are needed to keep our waters safe, protect public health, and safeguard taxpayers.