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Brian Romero, of First Drilling, secures chains on a piece of machinery used at an exploratory gold drilling site near Rochford in February.

A company conducting exploratory drilling for gold near Rochford in the Black Hills is now buying water for the project from the city of Lead.

Water is used to lubricate the project’s drill as it bores hundreds of feet into the rock of the historical Standby Mine area.

The company doing the drilling, Mineral Mountain Resources, of Vancouver, Canada, previously had a temporary permit from the state of South Dakota to pump free water from Rapid Creek near the drilling area. The permit expired May 1, and Mineral Mountain applied for another permit but eventually withdrew the application.

Mineral Mountain is now drawing water from a hydrant in Lead and trucking the water to the drilling area. Mike Stahl, city administrator for Lead, said the water is being metered and billed to the company. The rate is $31.75 per month for up to 2,000 gallons, plus $2.85 for each additional 1,000 gallons.

Stahl said the staff-approved arrangement is similar to others the city has used with construction companies, housing developers and contractors.

While Mineral Mountain’s temporary permit to pull water from Rapid Creek was valid, the company drilled three holes during February and March totaling about 4,300 feet. The company pulled 227,875 gallons of water from Rapid Creek in February and 234,629 gallons in March, for a total of 462,504 gallons.

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If that amount of water had been purchased from the city of Lead under the terms of the company’s new deal with the city, it would have cost about $1,370.

Mineral Mountain Resources issued a news release June 4 announcing that drilling had restarted near Rochford. The company is currently drilling on privately owned land under the terms of an Exploration Notice of Intent filed with the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

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The company hopes to conduct additional drilling on other land in the same area that is part of the Black Hills National Forest, pending a review of the company's plan of operations by the U.S. Forest Service.

The drilling project has been opposed and criticized by environmentalists who are concerned about potential mining-related pollution, and by Native Americans who consider the Black Hills an important part of their traditional spirituality. The drilling area is several miles from a mountain meadow known as Pe' Sla that is held in trust by the federal government for several tribes.

Three members of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe went to court in February to contest the legality of the Exploration Notice of Intent that was approved by state government. That court case is still pending.

Gold mining in the Black Hills dates to the late 1800s, but the region's only currently operating large-scale gold mine is the Wharf Mine, which neighbors Terry Peak near Lead.

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Contact Seth Tupper at seth.tupper@rapidcityjournal.com

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Enterprise Reporter

Enterprise reporter for the Rapid City Journal and author of "Calvin Coolidge in the Black Hills."