There may be a looming environmental disaster in North Dakota, but the problem isn’t the Dakota Access Pipeline. It’s the people protesting it.
After the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a statement demanding that the Oceti Sakowin Camp be closed by February 22 over concerns of flooding, many protesters packed up and departed. Left behind was their trash and waste, NBC News reported.
Oceti Sakowin Camp sits in a lowland area where the Missouri and Cannonball Rivers converge, making it a prime location for flooding. The record winter snowfall heightens the chances as spring arrives. And with flooding comes the risk of water contamination as trash and human waste could be swept into the nearby rivers.
Federal and local officials estimate there’s enough trash and human waste to fill 2,500 pick-up trucks, according to ABC News. Efforts to clean up the area are underway, but time is of the essence as the surrounding snow begins to melt.
“We’re really fighting the clock,” Morton County Emergency Manager Tom Doering told ABC News on Wednesday. “There’s more garbage down there than anybody anticipated.”
“There’s more than anticipated, and it’s under a lot of snow,” Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault said, per CBS Minnesota. “I wouldn’t say it’s going to get done in days; it’s going to take weeks.”
Standing Rock Environmental Protection Agency and Dakota Sanitation are currently working to remove the mountains of trash that have accumulated. Everything from tents to cars have been left behind after protesters received the evacuation notices. Around 300 to 400 people are reportedly still at the campsite, with some aiding in the clean-up effort. Despite the help, the job is only half-finished, according to the Washington Times.
One of the main arguments against constructing the Dakota Access Pipeline in the first place was that it was an environmental risk, since a rupture in the line could contaminate potable water in the area. Now it seems the protesters themselves may end up polluting the rivers, if their debris can’t be cleared out in time.