Cool, Clear Water…Maybe

by Robin EH. Bagley

While uranium mining and the groundwater associated with it aren’t the focus of this year’ legislative session, one only has to read back through this blog to see the lack of protection the state affords our water (ground and surface). The issue of in-situ leach uranium mining has been lurking around South Dakota for several years now, and happily, the permits have not been granted.

This is not due to our state government standing up and telling Azarga (formerly Powertech) a clear, resounding “NO!” In fact, the state has been quite welcoming and helpfully refused to passed groundwater safety bills and even a resolution stating how important water is to the welfare of the state and its people. The state was ready to roll out the welcome mat.

No, the reason we have prevented the mining thus far is due to tireless on-the-ground community organizing. Passionate people who have stood their ground in that water is life, and that uranium mining is a direct and permanent threat to it.

So, knowing that the state hasn’t done much to protect our groundwater, it was with interest I read a recent article in my local newspaper. In the January 6, 2016 edition of the Custer County Chronicle there was an article about Custer’s water supply being in danger of contamination from nitrates, arsenic and total coliform bacteria. The water study was undertaken by the City of Custer and the SD School of Mines & Technology, with data incorporated from the US Geological Survey. The nitrates and total coliform bacteria are considered to be human caused (ie: septic tanks and livestock) and could be mitigated if the point sources are found. The arsenic is naturally occurring in this region, so it’s always an issue that bears watching with groundwater. Arsenic is naturally occurring, it’s also a carcinogen.

What was interesting about this article was that it addressed how groundwater moves in this region, and how difficult that is to track because of the complexity of the geology. “The study showed areas of the aquifer with large fractures or structural features are vulnerable to contaminant transport….That means contaminants in groundwater have the potential to migrate through the City of Custer and beyond” (Custer County Chronicle, 1/6/2016).

Let’s be clear, the contaminants addressed in this testing are not the same as the contaminants from uranium mining (well, arsenic is still a concern either way). However, the point is that the Black Hills geology is very complex and that no one really understands where underground contaminants will go or how far they will travel.

The newspaper quotes the report delivered to the City: “The variability and complexity of the Precambrian fractured crystalline aquifer at Custer and throughout the entire Black Hills, necessitates a deeper understanding and commitment to protecting the water resources that many people depend on,” (Custer County Chronicle, 1/6/2016).

That’s pretty clear.


  1. Good job, Robin. Stop uranium mining in the Black Hills!

  2. Juli Ames-Curtis says:

    Accurate, precise and well thought out. My feelings exactly
    When I read the article in the Custer Chronicle. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Don Kelley says:

    Well said, Robin!

  4. Louis Redmond, PhD says:

    Thanks for your work on this, Robin. L.A.Redmond, PhD

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