Mines threaten agricultural water

“Water sustains life. Water sustains agriculture.”

Those are the words of Clint McRae, Rosebud area rancher who raises cattle near Colstrip. In this video, Clint voices his concern about the leaking coal ash ponds near his ranch that threaten Rosebud Creek and other water that his cattle depend on. The sulfates in the water are more than 8 times higher than what is safe for cattle.

DEQ is charged with regulating the coal ash ponds, but Clint says Peabody Coal Company has violated its permits numerous times and DEQ hasn’t enforced the law. Clint tried to turn to the Environmental Protection Agency but the EPA said it is the state’s jurisdiction. The McRae’s had nowhere to turn for relief.

“Our ranching culture has something of value,” said Clint’s father, Wally. “I think there are cultural wars going on and I don’t want to lose that cultural war. I don’t want to see the Northern Cheyennes lose that cultural war either. And although I don’t share the trama of what they went through, sometimes I think we that we’ve become Indians or Native Americans. And both of our cultures are being threatened.”

Have a listen to Wally’s poem, “Things of Intrinsic Worth.”

How does a fourth generation rancher tie into a behemoth like this? Clint asks.

If the Black Butte mine goes in above Sheep Creek, it’s acid-rock drainage could threaten agricultural producers downstream. Many producers along the lower part of Sheep Creek and along the Smith River below the canyon could find themselves in the same straits as the McRae’s.

Everyone who has floated the Smith River sees the sheep ranch 5 miles before the takeout at Eden Bridge – those sheep could be affected if Tintina’s waste rock taints the area’s water. But how could that rancher take on an Australian mining company when his own state’s environmental agency refuses to enforce its own regulations?