PacifiCorp owns and maintains the Silver Bell tailings remediation site, located near the Ophir Loop, but has, according to SMA Executive Director Hillary White, allowed the site to discharge heavy metals, acidic drainage, and effluent solids into the Howard Fork of the San Miguel between October 2006 and the present.
“Because of the persistent and ongoing nature of these violations, we have every reason to expect that PacifiCorp’s pollution will keep endangering the San Miguel River unless we take a strong stance and make it clear that the site must be cleaned up immediately and all the water quality violations corrected,” said White. “The Silver Bell tailings site at Ophir Loop is vitally important to protecting the health of the Howard Fork of the San Miguel,” she said, and “the site is violating discharge standards with acid discharge, iron, and solids, and that affects drinking water supplies downstream as well as habitat for fish and wildlife.”
PacifiCorp has 60 days to correct the ongoing discharge violations of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit for the Silver Bell site, or it could potentially face fines, to be imposed by a federal court, for its past five years of violations.
PacifiCorp acquired the Silver Bell site and initiated a cleanup of the tailings in 1998 from the Silver Bell Mill, which processed ore from several mines in the Ophir area through the 1950s. As part of the remediation, the site was stabilized and capped to prevent toxic discharges into the Howard Fork, with the quality and amount of discharge regulated under an NPDES permit.
According to monitoring data from the Silver Bell site reported to the Environmental Protection Agency, PacifiCorp has violated water quality standards for pH (acidity) during 23 months in the period between October 2006 and July 2010. Standards for the 30-day average of solids were violated for 22 months in the period between April 2008 and March 2011. The highest discharges occurred during winter months, and at times exceeded the standards by 800 percent. Standards for the daily discharge of solids were violated in 19 months between April 2008 and March 2011. Standards for the discharge of iron were violated in January and March of 2010. The permitted flow rate for discharges from the site was violated at least six times during 2009 and 2010.