Court Rules Flambeau, Wisconsin ‘Model Mine’ Violated Clean Water Act

A federal court ruled Tuesday that Flambeau Mining Company (FMC) violated the Clean Water Act on numerous occasions by allowing pollution from its Flambeau Mine site, near Ladysmith, Wis., to enter the Flambeau River and a nearby tributary known as Stream C.
The lawsuit was filed early last year by the Wisconsin Resources Protection Council (WRPC), the Center for Biological Diversity, and Laura Gauger. The complaint charged that Flambeau Mining Company (a subsidiary of Kennecott Minerals Company / Rio Tinto) was violating the Clean Water Act by discharging storm water runoff containing pollutants, including toxic metals like copper and zinc, from a detention basin known as a biofilter.

Flambeau Mine in September 1994, when heavy rains caused flooding at the mine site.

The federal Clean Water Act makes it unlawful to discharge pollutants from a point source to waters of the United States without a permit issued under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”).  Both the U.S. EPA and the DNR (which has been delegated authority to issue NPDES permits in Wisconsin under its parallel program, the WPDES) commonly issue permits to point-source discharges of industrial stormwater such as the discharge from FMC’s biofilter.  The most important function of an NPDES permit is to ensure that all applicable water quality standards are maintained. FMC never had an NPDES permit authorizing the discharge of copper, zinc, iron, and other pollutants from the biofilter to Stream C, and therefore was in violation of the Clean Water Act.