ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Trout Unlimited and a group of partner organizations today nominated the Koktuli River in Southwest Alaska as an Outstanding National Resource Water, a designation that affords the highest protection to the river’s pristine water quality and highly productive fish habitat.
An Outstanding National Resources Water (ONRW) is a designation under the Clean Water Act that aims to protect high-quality waters for existing uses. By designating a river or stream as an ONRW, no new or increased pollution discharges can occur within that body of water. Additionally, no new or increased discharges can occur in a tributary if it results in lower water quality to the ONRW river or stream.
ONRW designations are enacted under the anti-degradation provisions of the Clean Water Act. Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) is charged with overseeing Alaska’s anti-degradation policies, including identifying ONRWs with help from the public.
Together with the Nushagak-Mulchatna Wood-Tikchik Land Trust, Alaska Alpine Adventures, LLC, SnoPac Products, Inc., Alaska Independent Fishermen’s Marketing Association, Renewable Resources Coalition, and Nunumta Aulukestai, Trout Unlimited submitted a nomination today to ADEC, requesting that the agency designate the Koktuli River as Alaska’s first ONRW.
“An ONRW designation for the Koktuli makes sense given the river’s extreme value to the Alaska fishing industry, to the outdoor industry, and to local residents who depend on wild salmon for nutrition and cultural reasons. Our nomination is especially timely in light of the recent water permit violations by the Pebble Partnership which is planning to develop a huge open-pit mine near the Koktuli,” said Tim Bristol, director of Trout Unlimited in Alaska.
The Koktuli is an ecological powerhouse located in the heart of the Bristol Bay watershed. It is a headwater system that feeds Bristol Bay, home to Alaska’s largest salmon fisheries, valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The Koktuli also offers world-class sport fishing opportunities, attracting anglers and outdoor enthusiasts from around the globe. In addition to its outstanding ecological capacity and reputation for first-rate recreation opportunities, the Koktuli River system is critical to the subsistence needs of thousands of Bristol Bay region residents.
Today the Koktuli faces unprecedented threats from the proposed Pebble copper and gold mine. Some 125 miles northeast of Dillingham, the headwaters of the Koktuli lie close to the Pebble deposit. If Pebble gets developed, mine-related pollution could damage the Koktuli. In addition, the large volumes of water that Pebble might draw from the Koktuli pose a major concern. Earlier this month, the Pebble Partnership received a $45,000 fine for illegally extracting water outside the boundaries of its state exploration permits. The state has temporarily suspended the permits but the incident underscores the threats the Koktuli faces.
Metal mines throughout the world have degraded water quality and require tremendous amounts of water. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the hard-rock mining industry is the single largest source of toxic releases in the United States. More than 70 percent of mines in the United States have exceeded the water quality standards.
“These mistakes must not be repeated in the Bristol Bay watershed, a highly productive ecosystem that is one of the world’s largest salmon producers. Designating the Koktuli as an ONRW will help ensure this does not happen,” said Tim Troll, executive director of the Nushagak-Mulchatna Wood-Tikchik Land Trust.
The main goal of designating the Koktuli as an ONRW is to make sure that the development of any large-scale metallic sulfide mine will not cause any direct, indirect, or cumulative adverse effects on the river’s wild salmon, trophy rainbow trout, and other fish and the main industries and activities these fish support.
The full ONRW nomination, maps and photographs are available at www.savebristolbay.org.