Data from public records request and independent requests from 43 mining sites under federal oversite shows millions of gallons of water loaded with arsenic, lead and other toxic metals flow from some of the most contaminated mining sites in the Unites States and into surrounding lakes and streams without being treated.
Some of the states dealing with poisoned aquatic life and tainting drinking water were Montana, California, Colorado, Oklahoma and at least 5 other states.
However, the mining in North Dakota is a little different from other states.
"Hard rock mining for metals that you see, a lot in the Rocky Mountains, Montana, Colorado, and even some types of mining that happens further East, here in North Dakota we don’t have that type of mineral mining, we only have coal,” said Karl Rockeman, Division of Water Quality at North Dakota Department of Health P.E. director.
Why is North Dakota different?
"It’s mainly the geology. In those cases in hard rock mining, you’re digging in the rock and here we have a sedimentary layer of sand and clay, and that’s where the coal is at. So that’s a different type of mining and the water in these areas are also different,” he added.
In North Dakota's mining and water, the concern is sediment.
“Our open-pit coal mines have a number of sedimentation ponds where they will detain that water and allow the solid parts of that water to settle out in the pond before that’s discharged and released, and that ensures that sediment is kept on the site and not released back into our surface waters," said Rockeman.
Drainage then goes back to the Missouri River.
"I think North Dakota ranks really high amongst environmental compliance. And there’s a lot of nice, clean, good water, and there’s a lot of fishing here, water recreation. There’s always record fish being pulled out across the state, so those are really nice things to see,” said Marty Haroldson, NDPDES program manager.
Haroldson says as far as North Dakota goes, we're very lucky with the water quality here.
Rockeman says coal mines must monitor the water they discharge and there is a certain criteria they must meet in order for the water to discharge.