The Department of the Interior recently honored a team of USGS scientists and collaborators with the 2008 Environmental Achievement Award for the significant improvements they made to a contaminated aquifer in northeastern Montana.

The award recognizes departmental employees and partners who have cleaned up contaminated land and attained exceptional achievements in strengthening federal environmental, energy and transportation management. The honored team developed and implemented a remediation plan for the aquifer, which supplies water to nearly 3,000 residents of Poplar in the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.

Since the 1970s, billions of barrels of brine, which was seven times saltier than ocean water, began infiltrating the aquifer and contaminating privately owned wells and the nearby Poplar River. In one area, crude oil also was entering the aquifer. To address the contamination, the team developed a remediation system that includes a network of wells that pump the contaminated ground water to a disposal well 7,000 feet deep. They also plugged an abandoned oil well, which had been identified as a major source of contamination, leaking both oil and brine into the aquifer.

“Before remediation, scientists carefully mapped an image of the contaminated area by determining the ground water’s salinity, rate of movement, and preferred gravel channels for groundwater flow,” says USGS scientist Joanna Thamke. “We determined that the contamination could threaten the City of Poplar’s water-supply system, which is less than three miles away. The remediation system has and will continue to remove contaminated ground water from the aquifer, which currently is the only source of drinking water for Poplar residents.”

For more information about this remediation project, visit