October 12, 2007
Warm Springs Ponds
Perhaps more questions than answers were raised about the future of the Warm Springs Ponds and Wildlife Management Area at a recent meeting in Anaconda.
Since the beginning of the year an informal group of citizens has been meeting to discuss what will ultimately happen at Warm Springs Ponds area, the facility used to treat the toxic flows of Silver Bow Creek at the headwaters of the Clark Fork River and a popular recreational area, known for birdwatching and a trophy trout fishery.
And while uncertainty surrounds the ultimate fate of the Warm Springs Ponds and Wildlife Management Area, which covers about 4100 acres at the headwaters of the Clark Fork River, it is clear there is considerable public interest in the site.
About 50 people attended the meeting, which featured presentations came from Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (MFWP), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Anaconda / Deer Lodge County and CFRTAC. The CFRTAC-sponsored public meeting on Sept. 26 explored the history, present operations and future of the Warm Springs Ponds and Wildlife Management Area.
One central question is whether the ponds will remain intact (wet closure) or be drained and filled in with dirt (dry closure). Although it’s early in the process, agencies disagree whether wet closure or dry closure is a better solution. Scott Brown, EPA project manager, stated that wet closure may also be a safer way to treat the sediments. In their current wet state the metals from mining waste like copper and zinc have settled to the bottom and are not active in the water. DEQ is currently cleaning up mining waste on Silver Bow Creek. Joel Chavez, the project’s supervisor, estimates that work will be complete in 2011. After the risk of mining contamination from Silver Bow Creek is reduced it is unknown how long the ponds will be needed to provide safety to the water entering the Clark Fork River. Estimates from DEQ range from 5-15 years while EPA thinks 30-40 years is more likely.
Decisions on future ownership and operation of the ponds are also uncertain. Currently MFWP manages the fish and wildlife resources of the area on a lease agreement with ARCO. The lease is in a state of limbo and details of the future are undecided.
At the meeting Dave Dziak, MFWP, spoke about the diversity of wildlife and fish of the area, users of the area, and the lease agreement. Dziak said that the area provides habitat for many kinds of ducks and geese, birds of prey and other birds as well as big game like deer, elk, moose, antelope and bear. The ponds also provide a home for many trout and other aquatic wildlife.
The ponds were built in 1911 to trap mining tailings before they entered the Clark Fork River. Lime is added at the inlet of the ponds to precipitate the metal out of the water and into the bottom sediments. Treatment for copper, zinc and other metal removal has been good., though the ponds release arsenic during part of the year.
With organizational support from CFRTAC, the group hopes to engage the communities in the Clark Fork River area in a planning process focused on fish and wildlife habitats and the outdoor recreational opportunities in the Warm Springs Ponds and Wildlife Management Area consistent with long-term public safety and final clean up decisions.