Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Sword Over Bristol Bay's Head

A corporation is a one eyed slobbering beast that will chase a dollar over a cliff. Sure, they have their uses, like the trolls in the Lord of the Rings. But you should not put them in charge of long term planning..

Case in point: the impending ruination of the vast watershed that feeds the Bristol Bay.

Alaskans failed to pass a referendum this year that would have simply required mines to not poison groundwater. As a result a lake of poisonous sludge held back by one of the earth's biggest dams will be poised at the headwaters of the Kvichak, keystone river of the Bristol Bay red salmon run, so that the Pebble Miners can dig one of the biggest holes in the world. (Click illustration at bottom)

Now the BLM has decided to open a million acres of the wide river drainage downstream, effectively tearing down the last fences that protect a run of fish that is perhaps the world's most fantastic renewable resource. Millions of pounds of the finest food imaginable comes back every year, unless we poison them, which, apparently, we will. (Click story below)

I grew up in California's Sacramento River valley. One hundred years ago they were where Bristol Bay is now. Mining moved in on a salmon run that filled the rivers. After a couple of dams and a whole lot of extraction the fish are down to a trickle. Today, after Herculean effort, the winter run of king salmon on the Sacramento river is finally coming out of single digits, at an expense to the taxpayer of forty thousand dollars per fish. (Click story below)

Ah, yes, the Iron Mountain Mine. Like Pebble, it was seen as an economic boon to the region. They dug deep into the rocky hills at the headwaters of the Keswick. Today, even as we speak, it is exuding a smoking acidy poison that defies description. It may never stop leaking out, not in human memory. The strange bacteria that survive there have been used by scientists to show that life might exist on other planets, where "life as we know it" could not.

Will we learn from the past, or just grunt, put our heads down, and follow that dollar?




Here's a chart of the area, courtesy of the Anchorage Daily News: