• Alaska mining and water quality

      Zemansky, Gil M.; Tilsworth, Timothy; Cook, Donald J. (University of Alaska, Institute of Water Resources, 1976-06)
      The Institute of Water Resources has sought financial assistance for some time in an attempt to initiate research relative to the impact of mining on water quality. Attempts were made as early as 1971 by Dr. Timothy Tilsworth and later by Dr. Donald Cook and Dr. Sage Murphy. These investigators anticipated growth in placer gold mining and the development of natural resources in Alaska during a period of national and environmental concern. The subsequent energy "crisis," the major increase in the price of gold on the world market, and dwindling nonrenewable resource supplies have resulted in large-scale mineral exploration in Alaska. This exploration, coupled with development of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, has attracted considerable capital for potential investment and development in Alaska. Expected industrial growth has already started and major new projects are "just around the corner." Yet, as of 1976, no major research effort has occurred to determine the extent of or potential for water quality impacts from mining operations in Alaska. Recently a series of interdisciplinary research projects have been completed in Canada; however, the application of Canadian data to Alaskan problems is uncertain. Although, state and federal government agencies have been advised and are aware of this potential problem and lack of baseline data they have not sought out new information or rational solutions. Even now, with deadlines of Public Law 92-500 at hand, some regulatory agencies give the impression of attempting to ignore the situation. Interim limitations are proposed and permits are issued with no discernible rationale or basis. Data have not been obtained relative to the Alaskan mining operations and thus are not available for use in seeking solutions compatible with mining and environmental protection. Numbers appear to have been arbitrarily assigned to permits and water quality standards. When permits are issued, self-monitoring requirements are negligible or nonexistent. Nor have regulatory agencies demonstrated the ability or inclination to monitor mining operations or enforce permits and water quality standards. It was hoped that the project would bring together miners, environmentalists, and regulators in a cooperative effort to identify the problems and seek solutions. The investigators recognized the political sensitivity of the subject matter but proceeded optimistically. Relatively good cooperation, though not total, occurred early in the project. In April 1976, a symposium was held to exchange ideas and determine the state-of-the-art. Although the symposium had good attendance and an exchange of information occurred, the symposium itself was somewhat of a disappointment. With few exceptions, the participants aligned on one side or the other in preconceived fixed positions. Some even chose not to attend and were therefore able to avoid the issues. Little hard data was presented. Optimistically, some of the miners, environmentalists, and regulators are prepared to resolve their differences. This report, hopefully, will be of benefit to them. It is our experience that miners and environmentalists share a love of the land that is uniquely Alaska. We feel that technology is available for application to this problem for those who care about doing the job right in the "last frontier." Whether or not it will be effectively applied to protect Alaska's water resources is a question which remains unanswered.