I pull my hard hat farther down on my head, check the footing of my rain boots, and inch toward the rim of the canyon. There is a deeply rooted spruce tree right at the edge, which I cling to for safety. As I lean over the canyon wall, I can see the remnants of the once mighty Eklutna River. All that's left now is a muddy trickle of sediment-rich water, but I'm reassured that it will once again return to its normal flows by Brad Meiklejohn, coordinator for the Eklutna dam removal project and Alaska representative for The Conservation Fund. Brad graciously agreed to give the 5 rivers odyssey crew a tour of the dam site and elaborate on some of the work that is being done by the Conservation Fund. Trout Unlimited has assisted with the dam removal efforts and is eager to see the return of salmon to the Eklutna.
The Eklutna dam was abandoned in the 1950's, allowing sediment to build up behind the dam while continuing to block the river to spawning salmon. Since the initial dam removal efforts began in 2016, most of the sediment has been carried downstream. The future is bright for the Eklutna.
While some dams can be successfully removed, the environmental consequences are difficult to completely eradicate. Dams have a history of leeching or failing, which is a risk that we cannot afford to take with the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay. The tailings dam that would be required to contain mine tailings from the proposed Pebble Mine would be one of the largest of its kind, and it would have to be contained for an infinite amount of years. Approximately 110,000 miles of streams worldwide are impaired by traces of heavy metals from abandoned mines. These streams are important for both aquatic organisms and drinking water. Mines are messy and destructive, and mining companies have a history of treating our environment like an infinite resource for financial gain. and leaving other people to deal with the consequences.
Fortunately, Trout Unlimited is working on advancing the progress of Good Samaritan Legislation. This legislation would protect TU and other nonprofits from risks associated with liability issues. TU is involved in several mine cleanup projects across the West, but it would be easier for TU to get involved in clean-up efforts if they were protected by Good Samaritan legislation.
In the case of the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, we need to carefully evaluate the failures of other mines and the resulting dams. While TU is leading the efforts to restore stream habitats, they are also working to ensure that no clean-up efforts are needed in Bristol Bay. Mines in America have a dark history of destruction, and TU is working to keep the future of Bristol Bay bright.