Last Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a draft Watershed Assessment for Bristol Bay in light of the proposed Pebble Mine, an open-pit copper and gold mine with the potential to wreak some serious havoc on the Bristol Bay ecosystem and the region’s fishing economy. The draft assessment concluded that large-scale mining is not compatible with productive salmon habitat. Here are some of the specific findings of the EPA:

  • Bristol Bay’s wild salmon fishery and other natural 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.
  • 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. 

The draft assessment is open for public comments until the middle of July, and then there will be a push to get the EPA to release the final assessment in the fall. The EPA could play a powerful role in stopping the mine’s development, as writer Paul Greenberg points out, by enforcing a section of the Clean Water Act. We’ll keep you posted as efforts to build on this momentum continue.

In the meantime, for more details on the results of the assessment, here are some good related news items from the Washington Post, the LA Times, and the Cordova Times (in Alaska). On the EPA’s Bristol Bay page, you’ll find the full Draft Assessment document, links and instructions for leaving public comments, and further resources to learn about the issue. At Save Bristol Bay, our partners are keeping visitors to the site informed on next steps and how to get involved with the work to protect this great resource.