By Deb Courson Smith, Big Sky Connection

Near Colstrip, several Montana ranchers downstream from coal mines near want the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to address problems in eastern Montana related to water quality and quantity–or they’ll sue.

Ellen Pfister, a Yellowstone County rancher, says a law is already on the books to prevent water conflicts, but it is not being enforced, and that can lead to pollution and disrupted water flows.

“This is to get Montana to do a better job of trying to get the mines to come up with a way to improve the water quality after the coal is mined, rather than just leaving it whatever comes to it in the pit.”

Pfister says coal strip-mining displaces large amounts of dirt and rock, which stirs up water quality underground and sometimes makes the water flow more slowly.

“You increase the total dissolved solids in that water, more than it is when it comes in with an aquifer that’s been flushed over thousands and millions of years.”

The DEQ has until the third week in November to respond.

The Montana Sierra Club and Montana Environmental Information Center sent the notice on behalf of the ranchers. The Western Environmental Law Center and Morris Law Office are representing the parties filing the notice.