The Smith River is not a location for another failed mining experiment.
Montana’s Smith River is renowned worldwide for its clean water, rugged canyon scenery, and blue ribbon trout fishery. The Smith is Montana’s only permitted recreational river. The permitted section of the Smith River winds 59 miles through a remote canyon in the Big Belt Mountains. Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks classifies the Smith River’s fishery as high-value, owing to its bountiful population of rainbow, brown, westslope cutthroat, and brook trout. The canyon walls of the Smith also boast some of the best examples of Native American pictographs in Montana.
A small Canadian mining start-up, Tintina Resources, is investigating the feasibility of a massive copper mine at the headwaters of the Smith River, on the banks of Sheep Creek. Tintina recently partnered with Australian-based Sandfire Resources to develop the project. Tintina has signaled that it is interested in applying for a full-scale mine operating permit from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, some time in late 2015. The mine would drop below the water table, and Tintina would have to pump water out of the mine to keep it from flooding. The pumped wastewater would contain arsenic and other toxics. Tintina’s proposed copper mine is particularly concerning because it will mine through sulfide minerals, which when exposed to air and water can react to form sulfuric acid in a process known as acid mine drainage. Montana has a long legacy of mining projects that have contaminated our rivers and streams. The Smith River is not a location for another failed mining experiment.
Montana’s Smith River is renowned for its spectacular scenery, towering limestone canyons, and blue-ribbon trout fishery. It originates high in the Castle Mountains of central Montana, and flows through remote canyons before it empties into the Missouri River about 10 miles downstream of Great Falls.
It is Montana’s only permitted river due to the exceptional public demand to experience its fishing and recreational opportunities. And, it’s an important economic engine – generating upwards of $10 million in annual revenue from these activities. A portion of the river is managed as a State Park, featuring an incredible 59-mile stretch of river with only one put-in and one take-out point.
The Smith River and its tributaries provide crucial habitat and spawning grounds for regional trout fisheries. The Sheep Creek drainage accounts for over half of tributary spawning of rainbow trout in the Smith River drainage, and rainbow trout have been known to travel nearly 200 miles round-trip from the Missouri River to spawn!
The Smith River depends on clean cold water from its tributaries to sustain the aquatic life within its banks and the agricultural operations along it. Demands on the river’s waters already exceed available flows in many years, creating challenges for downstream water users.
A small Canadian company, Tintina Resources, has signaled they are interested in developing a mine along Sheep Creek at the headwaters of the Smith River in central Montana, and have partnered with Sandfire Resources, an Australian-based mining firm. The project, known as the Black Butte Copper Mine, is located approximately 20 miles north of White Sulphur Springs in central Montana.
Tintina and Sandfire are currently in the exploratory phase of the project, but have signaled that they are interested in applying for a full-scale mine operating permit in late 2015.
The proposed mine is particularly a concern because the mine will have to dig into sulfide minerals, which when exposed to air and water, can react to form sulfuric acid in a process known as acid mine drainage. Acid mine drainage is highly toxic to fish and other aquatic life.
Groundwater pumping from mining activities could potentially lower the water table, and create a “cone of depression” that extends to the Sheep Creek alluvium – posing a threat to adjacent stream flows. The Smith River, and Sheep Creek, already suffer from low flows during most years, putting pressure on downstream water users and preventing the fishery from reaching its potential.
Groundwater that is captured in the tunnel will contain arsenic and other toxic substances that pose a serious threat to water quality.
While Vancouver, B.C. headquartered Tintina Resources is managing the project, Sandfire Resources recently purchased a 36% stake in Tintina and maintains the option to purchase up to 53% of the company, which would provide Sandfire with a controlling stake in the proposal.
Montana’s Smith River is an extraordinary resource, and deserves our most rigorous effort to protect it from mine pollution and dewatering. Montana Governor Steve Bullock and Department of Environmental Quality Director Tom Livers will make critical decisions that will determine the future of the Smith River and the Sheep Creek Mine.
Please contact Governor Bullock and Director Livers by signing the petition. Let them know that the Smith River is an incredibly important place for the people of Montana and across the country and world, and should not be sacrificed for temporary and risky mining activities.
“Dear Governor Bullock and Director Livers,
I am joining with others who are concerned about the proposal by Tintina Resources and Sandfire to develop a large copper and silver mine in the headwaters of our cherished Smith River. The Smith River is renowned for its spectacular scenery, towering limestone canyons, and blue-ribbon trout fishery, and it’s an economic engine for the region – generating up to $10 million in annual revenue from these activities.
Tintina and Sandfire have signaled that they are interested in seeking a full-scale mine operating permit from the Department of Environmental Quality. This puts the headwaters at risk from arsenic, acid mine drainage, and dewatering.
I implore you to safeguard the Smith River watershed from the Smith River Mine.”
Great Falls Tribune, 2/16/15: Bigger bond for metal mines sought
Billings Gazette, 1/22/2015: Don’t Sacrifice Smith River to Copper Mining (Guest Editorial)
Missoulian, 6/9/2014: Black Butte Copper Mine proposal brings battle to Smith River
Missoulian, 4/8/14: Mining company revises exploration plan for Smith River headwaters
Field & Stream, 4/1/14: Lawsuit Filed Against Mining Exploration on Montana’s Smith River
Missoulian opinion by Greg Tollefson, 3/27/14: A New Threat to Smith River
Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 3/17/14: Lawsuit Challenges DEQ approval of mine near Smith River
Billings Gazette, 1/16/14: State OKs copper exploration at head of Smith River
Helena Independent Record, 6/16/13: Copper Mine Near White Sulfur Springs Gets Initial OK From DEQ
Montana Environmental Information Center