Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Scientists Back EPA’s Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment

A group of 360 scientists from the United States, Canada and Europe commended the US Environmental Protection Agency this week for its Bristol Bay watershed assessment and urged use of the Clean Water Act to protect the bay from mining.

“Based on the results of the assessment, we are very concerned about the prospect of large-scale mining in the unique and biologically rich watersheds of Southwest Alaska’s Bristol Bay,” the scientists said, in their letter to UPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, and EPA Regional 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran.

“The preponderance of evidence presented in the watershed assessment indicates that large-scale hard rock mining in the Bristol Bay watershed threatens a world-class fishery and uniquely rich ecosystem, and we urge the administration to act quickly to protect the area,” the letter said.

The study, in its final document, concluded that mining of the scale of the proposed Pebble mine could destroy up to 94 miles of salmon-spawning streams and 5,350 acres of wetlands, lakes and ponds in the region. The assessment also said that failure of a tailings storage dam, releasing only a partial amount of stored tailings, would result in catastrophic effects on fishery resources, and the economies and cultures that depend on the fishery.

The Pebble Limited Partnership has criticized the report as a flawed analysis and has said it is continuing its effort toward submitting applications for federal and state permits to build the mine.

Prominent scientists who have been engaged in the discussion around the large-scale mine issue, including David Chambers of the Center for Science in Public Participation, and University of Washington Professor Daniel Schindler, said they found the report compelling.

The report “not only properly characterizes the importance of Bristol Bay, but conservatively underscores the possible impacts large scale mining would have on Bristol Bay,” Chambers said. “The analysis of the risks due to this type of mining in the watershed assessment is much more thorough than that which would be analyzed in an environmental impact statement under the permitting process.”

Schindler commented, “It is no coincidence that Bristol Bay fisheries, with their local-to-global significance, are supported by vast and fully functioning watersheds.

“In the Lower 48, we are beginning to appreciate what we have lost in salmon habitat by developing watersheds, and now realize how incredibly difficult, if not impossible, it is to restore proper system functioning once it has been degraded.”

The full letter is at

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