Bristol Bay Rivers among America’s Most Endangered Rivers

Proposed gold and copper mine threatens the world's last great wild salmon fishery.

May 17th, 2011

Bristol Bay, Alaska – The rivers and tributaries of Bristol Bay, home to the world’s largest run of wild sockeye salmon, are threatened by what would be North America’s largest open pit mine.  The damage to tribes, clean water, wildlife and the fishing industry that would result from this mine has landed Bristol Bay on the annual list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers™ – a report issued by the conservation group American Rivers. 

“These healthy rivers have provided abundant salmon runs for thousands of years and they will provide for a thousand more if we leave them alone.  All the tribes on the Nushagak River are against the Pebble Mine which threatens our way of life,” said Richard King with the Ekwok Tribal Council.

“The heart of Bristol Bay, home to one of the greatest salmon runs in the world, is under threat but large scale open-pit mining.  The Obama Administration has the opportunity to forever protect this natural wonder and sustainable fishery for our families and all Americans,” said Kimberly Williams, Executive Director of Nunamta Aulukestai.

“The scale of the project is staggering,” said David Moryc of American Rivers.  “There is simply no way to safely build a two-mile deep open pit mine at the headwaters of these pristine rivers. If we don’t stop this mine, it could cause irreparable harm to Bristol Bay’s legendary salmon and the livelihood and culture of the region’s native people.”

An estimated 10 billion tons of waste, including antimony, arsenic, copper, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, zinc, and high levels of sulfate, could be produced by the Pebble Mine. To contain this toxic waste, the mining company would build an impoundment taller than Hoover Dam near the Bristol Bay headwaters. In addition to causing health and developmental problems for humans, heavy metals could harm salmon, affecting their ability to migrate back to their home streams and evade predators, and altering their mating behavior.  American Rivers is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to prevent Pebble Mine from going forward. 

For over 10,000 years, Bristol Bay’s returning salmon have fed generations of indigenous families. The rivers support a commercial salmon fishery worth over $300 million annually, and every year over 15,000 non-resident anglers flock to Bristol Bay’s world class, blue-ribbon streams, which are filled with large rainbow trout, five species of salmon, char, and dolly varden.  Iliamna Lake, the eighth largest lake in the U.S. and home to one of only two known fresh water seal populations in the world, is also downstream of the proposed mine.   

Toxic waste isn’t the only dangerous impact from Pebble Mine. The project could consume up to 35 billion gallons of water per year, which could potentially dry up 60 miles of streams and important fish habitat.  Developing Pebble Mine would also require a 104-mile road corridor, the construction of two pipelines for slurry, and water delivery to a port site in Cook Inlet to transport the extracted minerals. 

The EPA has authority under the Clean Water Act Section 404(c) to withdraw the Bristol Bay Rivers from future designation as a mine disposal site, due to the harmful impacts on fisheries, wildlife, municipal water supplies, and recreation.  American Rivers is urging EPA to use this authority proactively by withdrawing specific areas in the Bristol Bay watershed from future designation as disposal sites. This would prevent the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, or any other state agency, from issuing the permit that Pebble Mine needs to move forward.  

According to American Rivers, the best way to protect Bristol Bay Rivers in the long term will be to revise the Bristol Bay Area Plan, requiring relinquishment of mine claims that could damage this irreplaceable resource. 

“If the EPA fails to act to prohibit the Pebble Mine, one of the country’s and the world’s last wild treasures will be lost,” said Moryc.

About America’s Most Endangered Rivers

For 26 years, American Rivers has sounded the alarm on 360 rivers through our America’s Most Endangered Rivers report.  The report is not a list of the “worst” or most polluted rivers, but is a call to action for rivers at a crossroads, whose fates will be determined in the coming year. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.

American Rivers’ staff and scientific advisors review nominations for the following criteria:

  • A major decision that the public can help influence in the coming year
  • The significance of the river to people and wildlife
  • The magnitude of the threat, especially in light of climate change

For the third consecutive year, America’s Most Endangered Rivers™ is sponsored by The Orvis Company, which donates 5% of their pre-tax profits annually to protect nature.


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About American Rivers

About American Rivers

American Rivers protects wild rivers, restores damaged rivers, and conserves clean water for people and nature. Since 1973, American Rivers has protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and the annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® campaign. Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 200,000 members, supporters, and volunteers.

Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. Find your connections at AmericanRivers.org, Facebook.com/AmericanRivers, and Twitter.com/AmericanRivers.