From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 6, Number 1 - March 30, 2006
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Water discharge at issue

by Cat Urbigkit

Bureau of Land Management hydrologist Dennis Doncaster told the Green River Basin Advisory Group Tuesday that water discharges are increasingly at issue, with issues that have been raised in eastern Wyoming now rearing in the Green River Basin.

Disposal of wastewater from industrial development activities has been handled in various manners in the state. According to Phil Ogle of the Wyoming Water Development Office, the disposal method depends onthe quality of the water.

“It’s a hot topic obviously,” Ogle said, especially in the Powder River Basin, where the discharge of coalbed methane produced water into natural channels has caused concern and controversy for private landowners impacted by the application of this water into a landscape where it wasn’t present before.

Green River BAG member Pat Mehle of Rock Springs pointed out that one major difference between the Green and Powder river basins is that the Green River Basin is subject to an international treaty with Mexico that puts severe constraints on the amount of salinity allowed in the waters of the basin.

That means that allowing discharge of water into natural channels is generally limited in this basin, with the preference being for re-injecting the water into underground aquifers.

Although it was reported that the BLM in this basin has indicated its preference for re-injecting the water, it’s the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality that regulates water quality.

“We bow to DEQ, which has primacy on water quality,” Doncaster said.

Doncaster described a reverse-osmosis process taking place in the Sand Draw Industrial Park on produced water. Once treated, the water exceeds DEQ standards for discharge, so DEQ has granted the company a permit to discharge the water “into a surface stream – Sand Springs Draw.”

The discharge could impact the ranch immediately down streamand there is the potential of turning an intermittent stream into a perennial stream, Doncaster said.

Although the discharged water meets DEQ standards for solids, Doncaster said the sodium absorption ratio could still be high, posing a problem.

Doncaster said that the discharged water could probably be used during the summer, but water is produced during the winter also, and that water must be dealt with as well.

Doncaster explained that the discharge “changes it into a bigger stream, and can cause a lot of soils to move and salts to be released from the soil.”

Mehle pointed out that the reverse osmosis process results in extremely concentrated salt that must be disposed of, to which Doncaster explained that this concentrate is “relatively inert, so it’s taken to a landfill.”

Doncaster said, “If industry can’t find places to inject ...we could see this whole basin developing ... into concentrated places of discharge.”

He suggested that the ideal situation would be to locate these concentrated places into streams that could handle the additional water, rather than discharging into dry channels where the impact will be great.

“It’s something that’s going to be a major factor in this area as it develops,” Doncaster said.

The disposal of wastewater was the subject of a recent district court decision in which the court ruled that two Campbell County creeks are not “natural watercourses” in which coalbed methane discharge deemed as “waters of the state” could be discharged without an easement over private land, according to an article in the Casper Star-Tribune.

In a related matter, the Wyoming Environmental Quality Council is beginning a rulemaking process that is aimed at requiring that discharged water be put to a measurable beneficial use.

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