Uranium, water, and the future of the Black Hills

Today marks the beginning of the water permit hearings for the proposed Dewey-Burdock Project, Powertech’s proposed uranium mine in the southern Black Hills here in South Dakota. You can read the water rights permit applications here, the groundwater discharge permit application here, and the consolidated case webpage here.

There are so many problems with this proposed mine, it is hard to pinpoint just one major issue. But the amount of water being requested by Powertech might just qualify.

There is a bit of a back-and-forth between Powertech spokespeople and opponents about the amount of water the company is really asking to use. Powertech likes to say they’re only going to use as much water as you can drain from your water hose in a day. Opponents point to the amount of water Powertech is asking for in their permit applications – 8,500 gallons per minute from the Inyan Kara aquifer, and 550 gallons per minute from the Madison Aquifer. This amounts to a grand total of 14,599.4 acre feet of water per year.

For some comparison, according to the USGS, annual recharge to all bedrock aquifers in the entire Black Hills region is 252,000 acre feet per year. Of that amount, 84% is put back into the Madison and Minnelusa Aquifers, about 211,448 acre feet per year. That leaves about 40,551 acre feet per year going back into the Inyan Kara, Minnekahta, and Deadwood formations. Note, again, this is in the entire Black Hills Region.

Of the amount Powertech is being asked to permit for, just over 13,700 acre feet per year is being asked for from the Inyan Kara aquifer. Regardless of what Powertech says, this is the amount Powertech is requesting a permit for. This is the amount of water they want the state of South Dakota to give them.

According to that same USGS report, the aquifer recharge rate for the Inyan Kara Aquifer in the entire region is 11,600 acre feet per year, with 1,400 of that already permitted to other users.

Do the math. Powertech is asking for 13,700 acre feet of water per year from the Inyan Kara. The amount available, according to the USGS, is 10,200. And Powertech would only be working in a corner of the Hills, so when you really think about it, the proposal is, simply put, absolutely insane. There is no other way of seeing this.

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