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USGS Recognized for Improving a Contaminated Montana Aquifer
Released: 11/6/2008 11:57:21 AM

Contact Information:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communication
119 National Center
Reston, VA 20192
Joanna Thamke 1-click interview
Phone: 406-457-5923

Jessica Robertson 1-click interview
Phone: 703-648-6624

The Department of the Interior recently honored a team of USGS scientists and collaborators with the 2008 Environmental Achievement Award for the significant improvements they made to a contaminated aquifer in northeastern Montana.

The team developed and implemented a remediation plan for the aquifer, which supplies water to nearly 3,000 residents of Poplar in the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.

Since the 1970s, billions of barrels of brine, which was seven times saltier than ocean water, began infiltrating the aquifer and contaminating privately owned wells and the nearby Poplar River. In one area, crude oil was also entering the aquifer. To address the contamination, the team developed a remediation system that includes a network of wells that pump the contaminated ground water to a disposal well 7,000 feet deep. They also plugged an abandoned oil well, which had been identified as a major source of contamination, leaking both oil and brine into the aquifer.

"Before remediation, scientists carefully mapped an image of the contaminated area by determining the groundwater's salinity, rate of movement, and preferred gravel channels for groundwater flow," said USGS scientist Joanna Thamke. "We determined that the contamination could threaten the City of Poplar's water-supply system, which is less than three miles away. The remediation system has and will continue to remove contaminated ground water from the aquifer, which is currently the only source of drinking water for Poplar residents."

The Environmental Achievement Award recognizes departmental employees and partners who have cleaned up contaminated land and attained exceptional achievements in strengthening federal environmental, energy and transportation management.

This was a collaborative effort between scientists with the USGS, Fort Peck Tribes Office of Environmental Protection, Pioneer Natural Resources USA, Inc., U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The team began working on the remediation study in 2003, which expanded on a series of earlier USGS studies beginning in the 1980s and previous short-term solutions mandated by the EPA.

For more information about this remediation project, visit the USGS Montana Water Science Center and the Fort Peck Office of Environmental Protection Web sites.

To learn more about the awards, visit the Department of the Interior Environmental Achievement Awards Web site.

USGS provides science for a changing world. For more information, visit www.usgs.gov.

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