This could be entertaining

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Posted by Ballpark Frank ( on 13:14:20 12/27/16

In Reply to: Gardiner sues... posted by 46er


Talk about a potential opportunity for supposed subject matter experts to milk the system for fees preparing testimony. It's a real shame that these two entities couldn't come to a non-legal solution. To some extent, it appears this is a move of desperation on the part of the sewer district. Having been one of their customers, I know firsthand just how small this public utility is. Gardiner only has about 800 year-round residents. Of course, the sewage treatment facility has to be sized to handle the peak volume during the summer tourist season, when all the beds in the lodging establishments are occupied. That still makes it a small entity compared tot he average sewer district. I can understand their frustration with their situation, but I am skeptical of their chances of success with the suit. Actually, I should amend that statement. If the real strategic purpose is to get the attention of the NPS and DOI, then they may see success. If this attorney really believes that he can force the federal government to take responsibility for the arsenic levels in Gardiner's sewage, that could open a can of worms due to its potential for establishing a legal precedent impacting federal lands and both public and private lands adjacent to them.

Here's what I know about arsenic in Yellowstone, and admittedly, I know just enough to be dangerous! Arsenic is one of a number of exotic elements that are leached out of the subsurface earth below Yellowstone by hydrothermal activity. You can see evidence of arsenic concentrations in select thermal features. You may recall in our 2004 visit to Crater Hills Geyser, we saw that brilliant red color proximal to the vent. That was likely some sort of arsenic compound. We know arsenic and the other exotic elements show up in a variety of places in the park, and in varying concentrations, including in certain rivers, like the Firehole and the Gibbon. To argue that because the park's sewage handling system is not doing an adequate job of filtering out the arsenic, and that is the source of Gardiner's problem, is to open the door to some pretty weighty counter-arguments. If I was the attorney for the government, one of the first things I would do, in the discovery process, is commission arsenic level sample gathering in a whole bunch of places, but particularly in the Yellowstone River, above and below where the Gardner River flows into it. We know there are all sorts of hydrothermal vents in Yellowstone Lake, and along the Yellowstone River including near Mud Volcano and for miles below the Lower Falls. If the water samples showed no appreciable difference in the arsenic levels above and below the confluence with the Gardner River, case concluded.

There is no doubt that the arsenic originates in Yellowstone. The problem is proving where in Yellowstone it is coming from, and whether there is a practical way of corraling it. I guess we could do what they do in hard rock mining operations. We could dam the Yellowstone River upstream of Gardiner, let the arsenic settle out into the mud at the bottom of what would become a super-expensive settling pond, and cost the taxpayers untold millions or billions.

We know (at least one particular scientist who has studied and documented it) that Yellowstone releases more carbon dioxide daily than 10 coal-fired power plants. Much of it is breathed off from ground that we walk over. (I saw where this scientist was conducting his research, south of Mud Volcano.) How would we hold the NPS or DOI responsible for the release, and force them to mitigate it?

The best case scenario would be an out of court settlement where the government does not admit guilt, but helps the sewage district finance its mitigation effort. Otherwise, the alternative might be some creative bed tax increase, soaking tourists. BTW, there are a fair number of NPS employees who live in the bounds of the sewer district.


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