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Powertech/Azarga Renews Quest for Water Permits to Mine Uranium from Black Hills

Dang—our most off-topic commenter is right: Powertech/Azarga still wants to slurp up our water to squirt uranium out of the Black Hills. After receiving Underground Injection Control Permits and a Safe Drinking Water Act exemption from that shouting loser’s Environmental Predation Agency last November, the notably unproductive foreign company is now resuming its quest for water permits from the state of South Dakota. Azarga wants to draw 888.8 acre-feet of water a year from the Inyan Kara Group and 274.2 acre-feet of water a year from the Madison Aquifer to force uranium out of the sandstone in the Dewey-Burdock area of northwestern Fall River County and southwestern Custer County. That’s 379 million gallons of water a year, or 1.04 million gallons a day, equal to the average water usage of over 11,100 South Dakotans, or 70% of the residents of the two counties where the mine would operate.

Dewey-Burdock Uranium Project, map from Azarga, retrieved 2021.05.03.
Dewey-Burdock Uranium Project, map from Azarga, retrieved 2021.05.03.

In the original reports on the permit applications filed in November 2012, natural resources engineer Ken Buhler said that the maximum amounts of water Powertech wants to draw from both formations are well below the long-term average net surplus of aquifer recharge over withdrawals and that the aquifers could withstand several years of maximum withdrawal by Powertech even amidst sustained drought. Buhler concluded that “this appropriation can be made without adversely impacting existing water rights including domestic users.”

Azarga hopes to distill 14.3 million pounds of triuranium octoxide from the southern Hills over 16 years. After a decade of low prices following the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster, the uranium market is regaining its glow. President Joe Biden’s super-duper infrastructure plan includes renewed investment in nuclear power to reduce both carbon emissions and Republican opposition to the plan. Last week, the State Department announced it is spending $5.3 million to help other countries develop small modular nuclear reactors to “address the climate crisis, spur innovation, conserve our environment, build resilience, and drive growth for communities in a safe and secure manner.” China and Europe are also giving Azarga and other miners hope for higher profits.

The Water Management Board holds its status conference on Powertech/Azarga on Wednesday, May 5. The meeting starts at 9:30 a.m., but the agenda lists several other items first. Interested parties may participate remotely via phone or Internet.


  1. Mark Anderson 2021-05-03


  2. jake 2021-05-03

    I guess I’d be less skeptical of this proposal to use as much water as the Rapid City water system pumps each day out of those aquifers if I could only personally witness the board of Directors of this foreign corporation drink a quart of this water they claim will be as good after they use it as was before!

    We must remember that we can live without uranium extraction making $$$ for a foreign corporation–but we CAN”T live without WATER to drink!!!!!!

  3. Donald Pay 2021-05-03

    I think this is still a long way away from actual operation. After all federal administrative appeals are decided I assume there will be federal lawsuits. There are also state permits that must be obtained and litigated. There are also likely to be a re-look at all the Trump Administration rules changes, which have made this operation far more dangerous.

    At the state level, the uranium mining laws and regulations are terribly out-of-date. I was involved when those were last updated, I believe in 1983. Those should undergo considerable revision before any mining is allowed. The NRC has control over the radiation aspects of mining source material (uranium, in this case), but the state as a role to play in other areas.

  4. Arlo Blundt 2021-05-03

    well…its a lot of water in a part of the state that is semi arid..its a tough place to find water, period. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

  5. Arlo Blundt 2021-05-03

    Well, I haven’t driven out to Dewey for about 40 years (the last uranium boom). The “prospecting grounds” are on the old Sturgis and Goodell Ranch, Dewey was a siding where they loaded cattle on the Burlington line which runs from Newcastle down to Edgemont (its coal trains now). They’ve dug into those hills for uranium, with some luck, since the late 40’s. The property is on the west side of the “racetrack” around the hills, a high plains sage brush desert. The mountains and national forest are just a couple miles east and the mountains go up to 5000 feet.As I recall, there was a small pond west of the rail tracks, it might have been something built by the railroad to provide water for steam engines. There’s not much water out there. Pass Creek comes out of the Hills proper and flows down toward the Cheyenne on the east side. On the west is Beaver Creek, which is more substantial a drainage, rising up by Newcastle and running into the Cheyenne down by Edgemont. Both creeks might be called “intermittant” depending on the rain which averages about 11 inches a year.Like most mining, Uranium mining leaves a mess except in this case it’s a radioactive mess.

  6. leslie 2021-05-04

    Jake’s comment could benefit from elaboration and Cory’s millions of gallons are difficult to visualize.

    The miner’s use of Madison aquifer’s 274 acre feet might compare to annually removing 1 foot of RC’s Canyon Lake, or Deerfield Reservoir (whichever has more comparable surface acreage). Pactola Reservoir is a 55,000 acre foot lake most are familiar with 15 miles west on Rapid Creek. Inya Kara’s 880 acre foot annual proposed use is a less utilized aquifer for RC. The city has 5 or more 36-48” high capacity, million dollar Madison wells 1000’ deep, or less, within a few miles of where Rapid Creek recharges the Madison aquifer (near the Fish Hatchery).

    The well known Madison visibly outcrops as the high white/yellow limestone cliffs in Dark Canyon, Nemo Canyon (Steamboat Rock), and Spearfish Canyon.

    Water use on the west side of the Black Hills would seem to be unconnected with Madison/Inya Kara aquifer groundwaters on the east side.

    However, on the western edge of the Rapid Creek drainage basin, nearer Wyoming, considerable annual recharge likely flows west into the Madison aquifer which dips sharply below the western prairie of eastern Wyoming — the steep highway down into Edgemont is a likely example.

    The hills are truly an island of nearly solid granite, emerging from the surrounding prairie and penetrating the horizontal aquifer layers. These groundwaters generally flow southeast, around Paha Sapa.

    USGS partnered w/WDWDDistrict in the last 30 years, and quite throughly published Rapid City and surrounding water use. Less information may be available concerning the Dewey/Burdoch area although USBOR studied the Cheyenne River watershed and built Angostura Reservoir near Hot Springs as early as the 50s.

  7. L4 2021-05-06

    My least favorite statement is that nuclear power reduces carbon emissions. Mining in all forms means high levels of carbon emission. Resource extraction of all sorts totals about one-third of all carbon emissions on the planet, per the UN Environmental Programme. Estimates I’ve seen for just mining and just in the US come out at about 10% of total emissions. The nuclear industry has played most people on this one. It is true that nuclear power PLANTS have little or no carbon emissions. But this is not true for all the activities that have to do with uranium exploration, mining, enrichment (high use of electricity), transportation (trains and trucks), building and decommissioning power plants, and waste storage. They all mean carbon emissions. If you ever hear the “no emissions” from nuclear power myth again, tell them the truth.

  8. leslie 2021-05-08

    Interstate water use like Porter mentions regarding CO snowmelt/SCOTUS/hedge funds, on another thread has big ramifications for discussion.

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