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Study Finds Mines Failing to Predict Water Problems

December 8, 2006

Las Vegas, NV - A first-of-its-kind study says predictions about hard rock mining's impact on water quality are not what they were cracked up to be. The study looked at predictions mine operators made about water quality, and then investigated in later years to see if they were accurate.

Study author Jim Kuipers says they looked at 71 mines -- and three out of four ended up with unpredicted water contamination problems.

"64 percent had mitigation failures. That's where they said, 'You won't need to worry about things because we're going to install a liner,' but the liner ended up leaking."

Kuipers says many of the problems uncovered in the study happen later, after mines are shut down. He says that should be a warning to Nevada, where many mines are still active.

"Really, time is going to tell whether Nevada fits the model of Montana, where 7 of 13 major mines in the state have resulted in long-term water treatment measures being required in perpetuity."

At Great Basin Mine Watch, Dan Randolph explains it's not the science that's broken, but that mine operators and state regulators aren't sticking with their scientific tools long enough.

"Basically, we're not getting enough samples, we're not doing the testing long enough, we're not doing enough baseline studies. Instead we're relying on mitigation measures to work, and when you look in hindsight, they do not work."

24 of the mines in the study are operating in Nevada, and Kuiper believes the most useful information for both the industry and state regulators is the part that explains why the predictions went wrong, so changes can be made to better protect groundwater in the future.

Read the study online, at

Michael Clifford/Eric Mack, Public News Service - NV