2012: EPA Listing of Surface Waters as “Impaired”

Despite industry claims that the Flambeau Mine has succeeded in protecting the environment from adverse impact, the facts prove otherwise.

Stream C is a tributary of the Flambeau River that runs across a section of the Flambeau Mine site on its way to the river. Between 1998 and early 2012, Flambeau Mining Company (FMC), by design, discharged contaminated runoff from the mine site into Stream C on a regular basis. For details click HERE.

Copper levels exceeding the legal limit set to protect fish have been reported in Stream C on a consistent basis ever since 2002 (when sampling first began), through and including the most recent readings as of this posting (November 2014), with some levels more than 10 times the legal limit. Toxic levels of zinc have also been reported on occasion.

The toxic levels of copper and zinc in Stream C led citizen Laura Gauger and the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council (WRPC) to petition the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in late 2010 to add Stream C at the Flambeau Mine site to the nation’s official list of “impaired waters.”

After reviewing Flambeau Mining Company’s own water quality data for Stream C and collecting its own samples for analysis, the Wisconsin DNR agreed with the petitioners and, in late 2011, designated Stream C as “impaired” for not only copper, but zinc toxicity linked to the Flambeau Mine operation. The EPA concurred with the Wisconsin DNR’s findings and proceeded to add Stream C to the nation’s official list of “impaired waters,” effective April 2012 (see page 66 of EPA’s approval document).

One of the judges in a Clean Water Act case waged against Flambeau Mining Company (2010-2014) referred to the pollution of Stream C as “de minimis” in a July 2012 ruling, despite the routine exceedances of water quality standards documented by the Wisconsin DNR in an April 2012 report submitted at trial (and which formed the basis for the Wisconsin DNR and United States EPA’s listing of Stream C as “impaired”). It was gratifying to Gauger to see the DNR and EPA put objective science ahead of what appeared to be the kind of politics, or perhaps ignorance, displayed in the courtroom. She stated:

“This proves our Clean Water Act case had merit, and it also suggests to me that the mining lobbyists in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and Alaska who to this day tout the Flambeau Mine as an environmental success story are either misinformed or intentionally misleading the public in an effort to further their own selfish interests.”

NB:   As of this posting (November 2014), copper levels exceeding the legal limit set to protect fish continue to be reported in Stream C. Click here for offical reports regarding: (1) the “impaired waters” listing of Stream C; and (2) FMC’s failed attempts to clean up the problem.