Dr. Hannan LaGarry teaches geology, biology, statistics, and research methods at Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Geology is his main area of study, and he put his geology knowledge to work analyzing borehole logs, drillers' notes, maps, and other data released by Powertech/Azarga last year in its application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Atomic Safety and Licensing Board to conduct in situ recovery mining for uranium in the southern Black Hills.

The NRC-ASLB yesterday released Dr. LaGarry's written supplemental testimony, given November 21, 2014. Dr. LaGarry's analysis finds a number of holes in the ground that, claims the scientist, poke holes in Powertech/Azarga's claims that their uranium mining poses no risk to local ground water.

Reviewing drillers' notes from 4,177 boreholes out of 7,515 boreholes logged, Dr. LaGarry finds...

  • 140 open, uncased holes
  • 16 previously cased, redrilled open holes
  • 4 records of artesian water
  • 13 records of holes plugged with wooden fenceposts
  • 6 records of holes plugged with broken steel
  • 12 records of faults within or beside drilled holes
  • 1 drawing of 2 faults and a sink hole within a drilled transect 7 notations “do not record this value on drill hole maps”
  • 2 notations “do not return this to landowner”
  • 63 redacted borehole logs

LaGarry says that the open boreholes and those capped with wood (which rots) and broken steel (which rusts) could allow mining fluids and contaminants to move through the rock strata into unmined areas. He concludes, "There is no reasonable expectation that confinement remains in drilled areas."

LaGarry says the presence of artesian water reveals the possibility that subsurface contaminants from mining operations could reach the surface and contaminate the Cheyenne River and its tributaries.

And what's that about faults?

During hearings before the ASLB in August of 2014, Powertech repeatedly asserted that faults and sinkholes were not present in the license area, and that the license was somehow unique in that regard. In my previous testimony, I offered the expert opinion that faults were almost certainly present, and the license area was most likely crossed by numerous faults. The observations I document herein demonstrate that my previous expert testimony was correct, and there are numerous faults present in the licensed area. Likewise, the drillers’ notes document a sinkhole along a drilled transect associated with two closely spaced faults also intersecting the drilled transect. Sinkholes typically form along faults, as the fault allows the initial penetration of acidic surface waters, which then dissolve a conduit through the rock which eventually forma a cave that subsequently collapses to for the sinkhole [Hannan LaGarry, written supplementary testimony to Nuclear Regulatory Commission Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, 2014.11.21, p. 3].

NRC staff evidently accepted Powertech/Azarga's assertions of environmental safety based on a spot check of three dozen borehole logs, with no apparent mention of the drillers' notes. LaGarry schools the NRC on basic math:

The minimum number of data points for a statistically valid and meaningful sample is generally 10%. In the Powertech instance the minimum acceptable sample size would be a randomly selected sample of at least 175 borehole logs. Based on the recent disclosure of over 4,000 previously withheld borehole logs, the appropriate sample would be 10% of the entire set, or about 575+ borehole logs checked. NRC Staff presents no basis for its so-called “random” selection. Without such information, professionals in my field cannot accept such assertions where it is possible that the limited data set resulted in poor methodology that is the hallmark of modern junk science. Having examined only 37 data points out of thousands available, NRC would have failed my Math 123 Introduction to Statistics class. None of my student researchers would be allowed to publish or present their research findings had they made such a fundamental error [LaGarry, 2014.11.21, p. 5].

Powertech/Azarga has contended that its in situ recovery mining project poses no threat to water quality in the Black Hills and the Cheyenne River watershed. Dr. LaGarry says we shouldn't be so sure.


Governor Dennis Daugaard's push for more mega-dairies has drawn legal action against Brookings County from Hendricks, Minnesota. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that the Hendricks City Council has "filed a lawsuit" against Brookings County to stop the 3,999-head concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) that Michael Crinion wants to build near Oak Lake. Brookings County approved the conditional-use permit for the dairy, over the protest of Hendricks residents who are concerned that manure from the CAFO will drain into Lake Hendricks and degrade water quality.

The lawsuit appears to be an appeal of the zoning decision filed jointly by the Hendricks City Council and the Lake Hendricks Improvement Association on November 3.

Hendricks residents are bent out of shape over this dairy because they may see millions they've invested in clean water go to waste:

The fight for cleaner water in Lake Hendricks started with area farmers converting to lake-friendly land uses on thousands of acres around the lake. They planted 22 miles of buffer strips and other vegetation designed to stop runoff of sediment and nutrients. Together with sewage and stormwater improvements by lake cabin owners and by the surrounding wastewater districts, the cleanup has cost more than $5 million, [Hendricks mayor Jay] Nelson said.

In one recent project, 22 property owners on the South Dakota side of Lake Hendricks and 44 homeowners on the Minnesota side each invested an average of $12,000 in septic improvements, including hookups to the Hendricks city sewer district. Another $1.5 million has been spent on environmental testing and research, the mayor said.

“Our town’s major concern is that we’ve spent millions to clean up our lake, and it’s an unfinished job,” Nelson said. “Any runoff from this dairy would end up in Lake Hendricks” [Tony Kennedy, "The Border War over Cleaned-up Lake Hendricks," Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 2014.12.01].

Governor Daugaard's policy man Nathan Sanderson tells the Star-Trib the Oak Lake dairy is just one component of the state's push to double its dairy herd and provide more milk for the new state-subsidized Bel Brands cheese factory in nearby Brookings. He sneers at the Hendricks protesters, "We have an approach in South Dakota where we are open for business.... We’re not attempting to hinder business in any way."

But Hendricks residents see South Dakota hindering their business, which they say relies on clean water:

The location of this dairy, in our opinion, poses a great risk to Lake Hendricks and the surrounding area. The proposed location is within the Deer Creek Watershed District, which is the main supply of new water to Lake Hendricks. The waste management plan for the dairy calls for the continued application of their waste product to surrounding fields—all of which will create additional runoff issues when draining into Lake Hendricks. If this happens, we could see a reduction of water quality in the lake, which in turn will impact tourism, fishing, camping and other recreational and economic benefits that are enjoyed in the area [Lake Hendricks Improvement Association, letter to residents, quoted in Tammy Mathison, "Lake Hendricks Improvement Assoc. Letter Explains Reasons for Appeal," Hendricks Pioneer, 2014.11.28].

South Dakota's push for economic development now butts up against Minnesota's in a battle of milk and poop versus water.


The Lake County Commission delayed action this week on a conditional use permit for a private campground on the southeast side of my beloved Lake Herman. Terry and Bev Timmer acquired Larry Dirks's land and proposed building a campground up the hill from the lake in 2012. Timmers have done the first phase, doing dirt work for 16 campsites and installing septic systems. They now seek a permit to move more dirt and add 20 campaign pads. But the county said hold your horses when the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said Timmers are in violation of their existing state General Permit for Storm Water Discharges Associated with Construction Activity.

Uff da—what's it take to get DENR to jump on a developer? Oh, maybe the developer getting cited for violations in July, ignoring the DENR's request for a report on fixing those violations, and leaving violations for the DENR to find still occurring in November?

That's the story that comes from the inspections conducted and letters sent to Terry Timmer by DENR water quality engineer Jill Riedel. During an inspection in early June, Riedel found dirt washing off the campground construction site onto adjoining land due to inadequate sediment controls. Timmers also appear not to have filed the Storm Water Pollution prevention Plan required by their construction permit. Riedel's July 24, 2014, letter documented those violations and asked for a response by August 4.

Riedel's November 14, 2014, letter indicates that Timmers never wrote back. The latter letter, with more bold type and "WARNING LETTER" printed at the top, includes a report from Riedel's November 7 inspection finding several violations unaddressed.

Photos 7 & 8, taken by Jill Riedel, DENR engineer, inspection of Timmer campground site, Lake Herman, South Dakota, 2014.11.07, included in warning letter from DENR to Terry Timmer, 2014.11.14

Photos 7 & 8, taken by Jill Riedel, DENR engineer, inspection of Timmer campground site, Lake Herman, South Dakota, 2014.11.07, included in warning letter from DENR to Terry Timmer, 2014.11.14 (click to embiggen!)

DENR expects a reply by November 26. To perhaps focus Timmers' attention, Riedel reminds them, in bold type, that "violations of the general permit can subject you to enforcement action, including penalties of up to $10,000 per day per violation."

$10,000 a day? If the construction site has been in violation for 108 days (let's be generous and just count from the day they were supposed to reply in August), that's over a million bucks DENR could ask for. (Yo! Governor Daugaard! Does the state have any lawyer bills it needs paid?) I don't know what Timmers plan to charge for a night of camping, but if they're going to compete with Lake Herman State Park just up the shore at $19 a night (and really, Timmers will need to charge less, since they offer no trails, less shade, less room for the kids to play, much less shoreline, and a harder to find gravel road for access), but it would take 36 campsites 1,579 days (15 summers!) to generate the revenue necessary to cover that bill.

Since Timmers won't have 36 campsites until the county approves their second conditional use permit, and since that approval won't happen until DENR is happy, maybe the Timmers need to stop disregarding environmental rules and pay more attention to their erosion controls and their paperwork.


Big Ag groups in South Dakota are raising a stink about the EPA's latest proposed regulations to keep our water clean. As we know, this industry-manufactured fuss is mostly myth. The EPA is using science to make clear, consistent rules to protect South Dakota tourism and agriculture.

Mike Rounds won't let truth stop him from advocating that we "shut down" the EPA. But wait—an eager notes that shutting down the EPA would pull the rug out from under farmers who count on the EPA to maintain the ethanol mandate. Rounds liked the federal subsidy that boosted ethanol. Rounds's fellow farm-state Republicans really want the EPA to stick around and force folks to buy more ethanol.

Perhaps Rounds should ask to change his answer: he doesn't really want to shut the EPA down. He just though the E stood for "Ethanol," not "Environment."


The South Dakota Association of Rural Water Systems July newsletter offers a trio of articles that might make conservatives think that liberals have taken over the water works. Or maybe providing the most basic need to thousands of South Dakota homes simply requires our rural water providers to ignore ideology and stick with facts.

SDARWS first shares a report from Media Matters refuting conservative attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency's clarification of rules under the Clean Water Act. Apparently Fox and friends have been broadcasting false assertions that the proposed "Waters of the U.S." rule is some evil land grab, imposing expensive regulations on every drop of water as well as farm drain tile and ditches. Senator John Thune and Rep. Kristi Noem have fallen for this pro-polluter propaganda. Media Matters neatly dispenses with those myths and more, pointing out, among other things, that the clarified rules give the EPA less authority over less territory than it did under President Reagan; that the rules do farmers favors with exemptions for normal agricultural practices; and that the rules produce net economic benefits through cleaner water, recharged groundwater, reduced flooding (by protecting wetlands!), and more outdoor recreation.

SDARWS then cites Rich Widman and Chris Hesla of the South Dakota Wildlife Federation, who urge us to contact Senators Thune and Johnson and tell them to put the Prairie Potholes over politics:

Over the last few years, the U.S. Supreme Court has issued rulings that emphasized the need to clarify language that protects the safety of our drinking water supplies, wetlands and headwaters streams. Knowing they needed to clear things up and provide certainty for farmers, the EPA and Corps of Engineers last month posted the draft “Waters of the U.S.” rule for public comment.

But now – with a bit of political maneuvering – some politicians are attempting to derail this clean water rule that would restore longstanding Clean Water Act protections to some of the nation’s most important waters and wetlands.

When final, the rule will maintain exemptions for regular farming activities while re-establishing Clean Water Act protections for the wetlands and streams that provide drinking water for one in three Americans.

As a bonus for sportsmen and anglers, these same wetlands and streams provide critical habitat in our Prairie Pothole region for ducks, pheasants and fish, thereby helping to sustain the strong hunting and fishing economy of South Dakota.

Whether you enjoy clean water for drinking, or wildlife habitat for hunting and fishing, I urge you to join me in supporting the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule. And I ask South Dakota U.S. Sens. John Thune and Tim Johnson to do so, as well. All policy-makers should [Rich Widman and Chris Hesla, "Clean Water Critical for South Dakota Outdoors," Rapid City Journal, 2014.06.28].

Finally, SDARWS spotlights concerns in Nevada that global warming is intensifying drought conditions that are draining Lake Mead, behind the Hoover Dam, to its lowest level. The decline of that reservoir is just one of multiple pressures on water supplies exacerbated by climate change that will force the Southwest to change regulations and water-use practices made back in the day when water seemed plentiful:

"We've seen changes in river flow timing because of losses of snowpack in the western U.S., in California and the Rocky Mountains as snow disappears faster and faster because of higher temperatures," said Peter Gleick, a water researcher and president of the Pacific Institute in Oakland. "Those are all examples of some of the impacts we thought we would see and are now seeing from climate change."

..."Adding climate change on top of a system that's already out of balance makes all of our problems more difficult," Gleick said. "We have to realize that there are limits, especially in the dry Southwest. We can't just pretend that we can grow our cities forever and somehow find new resources for them, new water for them. We have to change the way we do planning. We have to change the way we manage water. And if we don't, changes are going to be forced on us" [Ian James, "Vanishing Water: An Already Strained Water Supply, Threatened by Climate Change," Desert Sun, 2014.06.14].

Water is precious, and with rising population, industry, and temperatures, it is not as plentiful as when we got here. The Waters of the U.S. rule is one attempt to keep the water we have left clean.

The federal portal for submitting comments on the Waters of the U.S. rule is here. The more immediate way to protect your drinking water, your fishing holes, and that hidden slough where you always bag your duck limit is to turn off Fox News and listen to your local experts on our water supply.

Related Reading: Midland, Texas, is dealing with drought and dwindling aquifers by tapping water sources 67 miles away and by raising marginal water rates fivefold. The latter worked really well: higher water bills got folks to cut water usage 35%. But less usage means less revenue for Midland to spend on repairing and upgrading its water system.


The word of the day: variability... as in climate variability... as in the thing we now say to keep from flipping denialists' lids by saying global warming or climate change.

The South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, South Dakota Rural Water, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency are hosting a two-day workshop next month on "Water Sector Emergency Response, Extreme Event, and Climate Variability Planning" in Fort Pierre. The workshop's raison d'être:

South Dakota communities, including drinking water and wastewater utilities, have been impacted by multiple natural disasters over the past several years. Physical security also remains a concern. While many utilities have taken steps to improve preparedness and response to extreme events, a new pattern of more frequent and intense extreme events, likely exacerbated by climate variability, is forcing a new approach to short-term and long-term “all hazards” planning [HorsleyWitten.com, workshop announcement, downloaded 2014.06.26].

There you go: at least at our DENR, South Dakota state government affirms the notions that the climate is changing, that we are getting more damaging storms than we used to, and that utilities and public agencies need to adapt their practices to repair and protect vital infrastructure amidst such increased threats from volatile Gaia. Real change, real costs.

Eight years ago, Governor Mike Rounds agreed that human activity contributed to global warming. Ask candidate Rounds about climate change, and within 15 seconds, he'll tell you we need to burn more coal.

I wonder: at what point will Republicans crying about the "war on coal" start hearing retorts from local officials asking them to stop wagon war on our water and sewer plants?


Joe Lowe partisans take heart: the losing contender in our Democratic gubernatorial may have gotten through to nominee Rep. Susan Wismer on at least one issue. After weeks of awkward agnosticism, Rep. Wismer is working her way closer to saying Powertech's uranium mining plan for the Black Hills is a bad idea:

Rapid City Journal: An international firm has proposed to mine uranium near Edgemont, a project that supporters say will bring jobs and pad state coffers with tax revenue. But opponents worry the mine will harm the region's water supply. Do you support the project?

Susan Wismer: Unless and until I am completely assured that there would be no damage to the water, I can't see myself supporting it. The Legislature is surrounded with pro-uranium mining people, former legislators that are now there as lobbyists. So they are not hearing the same thing that is being heard out here. And it is just another symptom of our government, which is controlled by one party [Joe O'Sullivan, "Five Questions with Governor Candidate Susan Wismer," Rapid City Journal, 2014.06.09].

That answer is still wiggly. It leaves room for her to fall for those lobbyists' baloney. It shows that her study of the issue hasn't gotten around to the local press Lowe cited during the primary that said in situ leach mining always damages the water. And it doesn't explain her vote in 2011 to eliminate state oversight of uranium mining.

But Wismer's Powertech caution is better than the vague shrug she gave in May, and significantly more comforting to environmental sensibilities than Governor Daugaard's current absurd non-answer. Keep pushing, Black Hills water drinkers: we may get Wismer to take a stand against Powertech yet!


It should have been a quiet morning in Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources. One confirmation, three resolutions, no big whoop.


The committee had little problem recommending that the Senate honor Oelrichs rodeo stars Chad Ferley and Lisa Lockhart, aside from the Senator Rhoden's newly kindled passion for distinguishing resolutions and commemorations. But when they turned to HCR 1025, Rep. Troy Heinert's pretty simple resolution declaring that groundwater is good and that we should be careful not to ruin it, everybody got cranky.

Rep. Heinert had tried do something practical about protecting water in the Black Hills with House Bill 1193. That bill went nowhere, so he thought he'd at least get the Legislature to say something nice about water. Rep. Heinert had back-up from his District 27 House-mate Rep. Kevin Killer, District 21 Senator Billie Sutton, Jay Gilbertson of East Dakota Water Development District, Sabrina King of Dakota Rural Action, and Paul Lepisto of the Izaak Walton League. They all said what Rep. Heinert summarized in one Lakota phrase: mni wiconi—water is life.

Then the opponents spoke. Larry Mann, usually a lobbyist of speaking for himself today, said HCR 1025's "reaffirmation" of South Dakota's commitment to clean water differs significantly from current policy. Odd: the three Whereas clauses of HCR 1025 addressing public policy come verbatim from SDCL 34A-2-1, which gives the general declaration of the state's water pollution control policies. You cannot differ less from current policy than to state current policy.

Hot Springs uranium mining promoter Mark Hollenbeck complained that HCR 1025 omits the word "mining." But again, the clause in question, "it is the public policy of this state to conserve the waters of the state and to protect, maintain, and improve the quality thereof for water supplies; for the propagation of wildlife, fish, and aquatic life; and for domestic, agricultural, industrial, recreational, and other legitimate uses..." comes directly from SDCL 34A-2-1.

Angela Ehlers of the South Dakota Association of Conservation Districts complained that HCR 1025 adds the word "legitimate" while "beneficial" is the statutory term that has guided South Dakota water policy for over 40 years. One more time, read the statute that HCR 1025 reaffirms: SDCL 34A-2-1 uses the word "legitimate" three times. "Beneficial" appears twice, next to "legitimate" both times.

Senator Ernie Otten of Tea moaned about the resolution not following the rules, even though the Legislature's Joint Rule 6A-1(2) says a concurrent resolution "shall express opinions and principles of the Legislature not having the force of law." HCR 1025 fits that rule just fine.

But remember, this is just a resolution. Up or down, when the vote is done, water is no cleaner or dirtier.

HCR 1025 went down 2–5. Time to confirm Scott Vance to the Brand Board and get some lunch, right?

Heck no. Eager to give conservationists a 1-2 punch, Senator Larry Rhoden decide to hoghouse HCR 1025 into a soapbox for Senator Dan Lederman's falsehood-based crusade against the Niobrara-Ponca Conservation plan.

I've worked hard to explain in previous posts that the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will do the prairie some real good with the Niobrara-Ponca plan. Folks who know more about Niobrara-Ponca than I might have enjoyed the chance to offer an even better explanation to the committee. But Senators Rhoden and Lederman used the surprise hoghouse to deny Niobrara-Ponca supporters that opportunity. Senator Lederman presented his grandstanding propaganda unchecked.

Note that committee chair Shantel Krebs broke committee protocol by allowing Senator Lederman, who is not a member of the committee, to take the floor and present on his substitute resolution long after she had closed HCR 1025 to further comment from non-committee members. Note that Joint Rule 7-1.5 requires a two-thirds majority of committee members to bring up any issue not posted on the committee agenda, and Niobrara-Ponca was not anywhere on that agenda.

Rep. Heinert called Senator Lederman's hoghouse "the biggest slap in the face I've ever had since I've been up here." Senator Rhoden tried to assure Rep. Heinert that he intended no disrespect. Everyone else on the committee voted to table the whole HCR 1025 mess and move on.

Meanwhile, our water is still at risk from intense ag-industrial development in East River and proposals to mine uranium and silica sand in West River. We can't get our Legislature to even say that, let alone do anything about it.


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