EPA Final Determination Protects Bristol Bay Salmon Fisheries

Image: Environmental Protection Agency.

A final determination on plans for a proposed mine adjacent to the Bristol Bay watershed in Southwest Alaska released Jan. 31 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) favors protections for the huge run of wild sockeye salmon and a multi-million-dollar fisheries economy.

The EPA said its determination would protect waters important to sustaining the area’s salmon resources from disposal of dredged or fill materials associated with developing the copper, gold and molybdenum Pebble deposit that a Canadian mining firm wants to develop.

The battle between development to extract these minerals from the deposit abutting the Bristol Bay watershed has been ongoing for two decades.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the Bristol Bay watershed is a vital economic driver providing jobs, sustenance and significant ecological and cultural value to the region. 

“EPA has determined that specific discharges associated with developing the Pebble deposit will have unacceptable and adverse effects on certain salmon fishery areas in the Bristol Bay watershed,” EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox said. 

“Our final determination,” he continued, helps prevent those adverse effects while helping protect a vibrant and magnificent watershed. It’s also important to note that EPA’s action does not apply to other resource development projects in Alaska.”

“It is good cause for celebration,” Rick Halford, former Alaska State Senate president, and an avid outdoorsman said, “but should be taken with the cation that lies repeated often enough and with enough money and power can never be totally disregarded.”

Halford, who is outspoken on the need to protect the Bristol Bay watershed, said it’s good to keep in mind that anything that can be done by regulation can be undone by regulation.

The Final Determination prohibits certain waters of the South Fork Koktuli River and North Fork Koktuli River watersheds from being used as disposal sites for the discharge of dredged or fill material for construction and routine operation of Pebble Limited Partnership’s mine plan described in its June 8, 2020 CWA Section 404 permit application.

It also prohibits future proposals to construct and operate a mine to develop the Pebble deposit that would result in the same or greater levels of loss or change to aquatic resources.

The Final Determination further restricts the use of certain waters of the South Fork Koktuli River, North Fork Koktuli River, and Upper Talarik Creek watersheds as disposal sites for the discharge of dredged or fill material associated with future proposals to develop the Pebble deposit that would result in adverse effects similar or greater in nature and magnitude to those associated with the 2020 Mine Plan.