Clean water is a fundamental resource essential for sustaining life, yet it continues to face numerous threats from human activities. One recent threat is the wastewater arsenic pollution from the Galena Mine Complex in North Idaho’s Silver Valley. This issue demands urgent action and a collective effort to protect the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River and all of Idaho’s rivers and streams from future pollution of this kind.
The Galena Mine Complex is a silver, lead, and copper mine located just west of Wallace, Idaho and adjacent to the South Fork Coeur d’Alene (SFCdA) River. The mine is owned and operated by US Silver, a subsidiary of its Canadian parent company Americas Gold and Silver. Beginning in March of 2021, the mine started having trouble complying with the arsenic and lead wastewater limits set in its wastewater permit. Since then and through March of 2022, the mine has violated arsenic or lead limits nearly every month, and by as high as 186% of allowable limits. While the data isn’t public yet, ICL has good reason to believe the mine is still violating limits through today.
ICL staff began investigating the violations at the mine in the summer of 2022. We discovered that the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) issued a warning letter to the mine in September 2022. However, DEQ’s own internal guidance advises these warning letters are best suited for “noncompliance issues by first time violators that do not cause actual harm to human health or the environment” and “for addressing paperwork-related noncompliance.” This is despite the mine adding unlawful amounts of toxic arsenic and lead to the SFCdA River, a river already loaded with toxic metals from previous mining activities, for months.
In January of 2022, ICL took further action and notified the mine and DEQ of our intent to sue the mine for its ongoing wastewater pollution. Our action prompted DEQ to drastically escalate its measures and issue a formal civil suit against the mine. In March of 2022, we followed up and filed a separate civil suit.
While our suit with the mine is on pause to discuss settlement, DEQ and the mine have reached a draft settlement agreement on their civil suit, including a near quarter million dollar fine. While ICL is encouraged by the mine being penalized for their pollution, we have concerns that the settlement terms may effectively give the mine a free pass to continue polluting the SFCdA River with arsenic until 2030 and may not be pursuing penalties for all pollution violations from the mine.
ICL needs you to help in the fight for clean water, and be a voice for the South Fork Coeur d’Alene River. The draft settlement agreement is open for public comment until June 16th. Take action below and tell DEQ that you care about clear water and the SFCda River, and that mining polluters must be held accountable to the maximum extent of the law.
Your action today is especially important as this is one of the first major water pollution cases since the State of Idaho recently took over wastewater permitting from the federal government. Strong enforcement and penalties in this case will send an important message to all mines and facilities in Idaho: no one is above the law, and illegal water polluters will be held accountable!