The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week released for public comment a draft scientific study of the Bristol Bay watershed and its natural resources.
EPAâ€™s report responds to growing interest in large-scale mining in the watershed from a number of stakeholders and local communities with a range of views and will lead to a better understanding of potential environmental impacts of these activities on the watershed. Under the Clean Water Act, EPA has the authority and responsibility to protect the nationâ€™s water and perform scientific studies that enhance the agencyâ€™s and the publicâ€™s knowledge of water resources.
EPA’s focus in the assessment is scientific and technical; the agency has made no judgments about the use of its regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act and the draft study in no way prejudges future consideration of proposed mining activities.
The report assesses the watershedâ€™s natural resources and the economic benefits associated with those resources, including the largest undisturbed wild sockeye salmon run in the world. EPAâ€™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.
Dredging Today Staff, May 21, 2012; Image: akmarine.org