By Marcy Stamper

The state Department of Ecology has issued a new permit to the Buckhorn Gold Mine covering water quality and the discharge of wastewater. The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System includes provisions that will protect water quality in nearby creeks, which Ecology says should “help correct environmental problems that have challenged the mine since operations began in 2007.”

The permit, which took effect March 1, came after negotiations with Crown Resources, which operates the mine near Chesaw, and environmental groups that monitor operations at the mine.

Buckhorn has until the end of 2014 to comply with the more protective standards, which allow the operators to discharge treated wastewater to certain creeks. Untreated nonindustrial stormwater can be discharged to the ground in compliance with state water-quality standards, according to Ecology.

Under the new permit, treated water discharged to creeks cannot exceed the contaminant levels found in surface and groundwater before mining began, according to the Okanogan Highlands Alliance. The Highlands Alliance and Crown Resources reached a settlement in 2008 that provides for extensive independent monitoring of water quality and conditions at the mine.

The discharge permit must be renewed every five years. Buckhorn’s permit expired in 2012, but was extended while Ecology, the mine operators and the Okanogan Highlands Alliance worked on procedures that would improve compliance with water-quality laws.

The permit also requires the mine to correct problems resulting in the failure to capture and contain contaminants, which resulted in a $395,000 penalty from Ecology in 2012.