Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Montana

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The Tongue River Water Users Association filed a lawsuit late last month alleging the Department of Environmental Quality issued a water discharge permit to a coalbed methane company that violates several state laws. The irrigators said the permit allows Redstone Gas Partners, now known as Fidelity Exploration Production Co., to discharge millions of gallons of untreated waste water into the river in violation of the Montana Water Quality, Montana Environmental Policy and Water Use acts. "Fidelity's discharge ... impairs our ability to honor our commitments to irrigators along the Tongue River, and to the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, and is illegal under Montana Law," said Art Hayes, a rancher near Birney and association president. He said a main concern is that the discharge water is high in sodium and has high SAR (sodium absorption ratio) values. The SAR is a measure of the degree to which sodium will accumulate in soil irrigated with the water. Water with high SARs can kill plants. Representatives of the Northern Plains Resources Council and the Montana Environmental Center said they also plan to file a similar suit against the DEQ challenging the permit.