EPA Releases Full Proposed Determination For Bristol Bay Protection

The EPA, having already announced its intentions to request more permanent protections for the Bristol Bay watershed from the Pebble Mine project, released its official Proposed Determination for the region today. The full report is available here, but here’s a sneak peek:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 10 is publishing for public comment this proposed determination (2022 Proposed Determination) to prohibit and restrict the use of certain waters in the Bristol Bay watershed as a disposal site for the discharge of dredged or fill material associated with mining at the Pebble deposit, a large ore body in southwest Alaska. EPA Region 10 is exercising its authority under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act (CWA) (Box ES-1) and its implementing regulations at 40 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 231 because of the unacceptable adverse effects on anadromous1 fishery areas in the Bristol Bay watershed that could result from discharges of dredged or fill material associated with such mining. Development of a mine at the Pebble deposit and such a mine’s potential effects on aquatic resources have been the subject of study for nearly two decades; the 2022 Proposed Determination is based on this extensive record of scientific and technical information. The scope of the 2022 Proposed Determination applies only to specified discharges of dredged or fill material associated with mining the Pebble deposit.

Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed (Figure ES-1) is an area of unparalleled ecological value, boasting salmon diversity and productivity unrivaled anywhere in North America. As a result, the region is a globally significant resource. The Bristol Bay watershed provides intact, connected habitats—from headwaters to ocean—that support abundant, genetically diverse wild Pacific salmon populations. These salmon populations, in turn, help to maintain the productivity of the entire ecosystem, including numerous other fish and wildlife species.

The Bristol Bay watershed’s streams, wetlands, and other aquatic resources support a more than 4,000- year-old subsistence-based way of life for Alaska Natives, as well as world-class, economically important commercial and sport fisheries for salmon and other fishes. The Bristol Bay watershed supports the world’s largest runs of Sockeye Salmon, producing approximately half of the world’s Sockeye Salmon. These Sockeye Salmon represent the most abundant and diverse populations of this species remaining in the United States. Bristol Bay’s Chinook Salmon runs are also frequently at or near the world’s largest, and the region also supports significant Coho, Chum, and Pink salmon populations. Because no hatchery fishes are raised or released in the watershed, Bristol Bay’s salmon populations are entirely wild and self-sustaining. Bristol Bay is remarkable as one of the last places on Earth with such bountiful and sustainable harvests of wild salmon. One of the main factors leading to the success of this fishery is the fact that its diverse aquatic habitats are largely untouched and pristine, unlike the waters that support many other salmon fisheries worldwide.

Nearly 70 percent of Bristol Bay’s Sockeye and large numbers of its Coho, Chinook, Pink, and Chum salmon are sustainably harvested in subsistence, commercial, and recreational fisheries before they can return to their natal lakes and streams to spawn. Thus, these salmon resources have significant nutritional, cultural, economic, and recreational value, both within and beyond the Bristol Bay region. The total economic value of the Bristol Bay watershed’s salmon resources, including subsistence uses, was estimated at more than $2.2 billion in 2019 (McKinley Research Group 2021). The Bristol Bay commercial salmon fishery generates the largest component of this economic activity, resulting in 15,000 jobs and an economic benefit of $2.0 billion in 2019, $990 million of which was in Alaska (McKinley Research Group 2021). Section 3 of the 2022 Proposed Determination provides an overview of the streams, wetlands, and other aquatic resources of the Bristol Bay watershed and discusses their role in supporting important subsistence, commercial, and recreational fisheries.

Here is the information about making public comments, which can be submitted until July 5:

Beginning May 26, 2022, EPA Region 10 will be soliciting public comments at public hearings and in writing regarding its Section 404(c) Proposed Determination to prohibit and restrict the use of certain waters in the Bristol Bay watershed as disposal sites for the discharge of dredged or fill material associated with mining the Pebble Deposit.

Written Comments

Comments on the proposed determination must be submitted on or before July 5, 2022.

Submit written comments, identified by Docket ID No. EPA–R10–OW–2022–0418, by one of the following methods:

  1. Federal eRulemaking Portal (recommended method of comment submission): Follow the online instructions at http://www.regulations.govEXITEXIT EPA WEBSITE for submitting comments.
  2. Email: Send an email to ow-docket@epa.gov and include the docket number EPA–R10–OW–2022–0418 in the email subject line.