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EPA’s Draft Watershed Assessment for Bristol Bay

Hard work pays off.

The folks at TU’s Save Bristol Bay campaign and Sportsmen’s Alliance for Alaska deserve some serious congratulations. Because of their efforts the a critical milestone in the efforts to protect Bristol Bay has been reached. On May 18, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency put out a draft scientific study of the Bristol Bay watershedand its natural resources. The study is open for public comment through July 23, 2012. Scott Hed and Shoren Brown (below) in particular have been tireless in their efforts to get us to this point and have earned a round of applause at the very least and a round of drinks next time you see them.

These guys have reason to smile

Forewarned is Forearmed

EPA has taken an important step and deserves credit for being pro-active in doing this forward-looking assessment. Knowing what the potential challenges of a project this size could be and the ecological and economic impacts it could have, allows EPA and those who have an interest in Bristol Bay to be much better informed when it comes to siting mining or other extraction projects in the region.

 Sportsmen in particular have written, spoken out and shown their concerns about the impact a large-scale mining operation could have on the Bristol Bay watershed.

What the DRAFT Watershed Assessment says

Here is what EPA wrote in their press release:

“The report assesses the watershed’s natural resources and the economic benefits associated with those resources, including the largest undisturbed wild sockeye salmon run in the world. EPA’s draft study does not provide an in-depth assessment of any specific mining project, but instead assesses the potential environmental impacts associated with mining activities at a scale and with the characteristics that are realistically anticipated, given the nature of mineral deposits in the watershed, the requirements for successful mining development, and publicly available information about potential mining activity. The report concludes that there is potential for certain activities associated with large-scale mining to have adverse impacts on the productivity and sustainability of the salmon fishery in the watershed. Potential impacts could include loss of habitat used for salmon spawning and rearing. The assessment, when finalized following the important public comment and independent peer review, could help inform future decisions on any large-scale mining in Bristol Bay by both federal and non-federal decision-makers.
The draft assessment focused on the Nushagak and Kvichak watersheds, which produce up to half of all Bristol Bay salmon and are open to mining development under Alaska law.

Key findings in EPA’s draft assessment include:

  • All five species of North American Pacific salmon are found in Bristol Bay. The Bristol Bay watershed supports the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world. The Kvichak River produces more sockeye salmon than any other river in the world. The Nushagak River is the fourth largest producer of Chinook salmon in North America.
  • Bristol Bay’s wild salmon fishery and other ecological resources provide at least 14,000 full and part-time jobs and is valued at about $480 million annually.
  • The average annual run of sockeye salmon is about 37.5 million fish.
  • Bristol Bay provides habitat for numerous animal species, including 35 fish species, more than 190 bird species and 40 animal species.

EPA also examined the importance of Bristol Bay salmon in sustaining the traditional subsistence lifestyle of Alaska Native Villages in the watershed. The assessment includes detailed reports on Bristol Bay indigenous culture, wildlife and economics, as well as salmon and other fish.

TU’s Save Bristol Bay campaign website adds this:

“Even at its minimum size, mining the Pebble deposit would eliminate or block 55 to 87 miles of salmon streams and at least 2500 acres of wetlands – key habitat for sockeye and other fishes. EPA evaluated four types of large-scale mine failures, and found that even though precise estimates of failure probabilities cannot be made, evidence from other large mines suggest that “at least one or more accidents of failures could occur, potentially resulting in immediate, severe impacts on salmon and detrimental, long-term impacts on salmon habitat.”

What it means for Bristol Bay

This DRAFT assessment is a good first step. There is still a lot of work to be done however. EPA’s assessment is scientific and technical. It is not final, takes no regulatory action and “no way prejudges future consideration of proposed mining activities.”

Unless significant changes to the assessment are justified during the public comment and peer review period, EPA should take the next step and initiate a process under the Clean Water Act to protect Bristol Bay’s waters.

Please add your voice in support of protections for Bristol Bay; Click here to take action.

For information on public meetings and how to submit comments, visit EPA’s website:http://www.epa.gov/region10/bristolbay/.

For more information on EPA’s Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment and to read the assessment, visit:http://www.epa.gov/region10/bristolbay/

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