Some places deserve special protection based on their remoteness and remarkable qualities; the Koktuli River in Southwest Alaska is among these places. Unfortunately, and somewhat ironically, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) seems to disagree.
Located just north of Lake Iliamna, the Koktuli River meanders through tundra, rolling hills, small lakes and ponds. Its North and South forks eventually flow into the Mulchatna River. The Mulchatna in turn flows into the Nushagak River, Alaska's largest producer of king salmon, and then out to Bristol Bay.
In February, Trout Unlimited asked ADEC to designate the Koktuli as an Outstanding National Resource Water (ONRW), a ranking under the Clean Water Act which gives a river's water the highest level of protection.
The river lies adjacent to the Pebble copper and gold deposit, which developers want to turn into a gigantic sulfide mine. According to documents submitted to the state, millions of gallons of water could be sucked from the Koktuli daily. And as is almost always the case with large-scale mining operations, pollution would likely find its way into the Koktuli.
TU, tribes and commercial fishing organizations petitioned for the ONRW designation to protect the river from these threats. But the agency rejected the petition on the grounds that regulators cannot protect the river until the miners apply for a permit to pollute it. In its rejection letter, ADEC states that it would be "premature" to protect the Koktuli before it receives pollution discharge permit applications from the Pebble Partnership or another mining company.
Refusing to safeguard the Koktuli's pristine and vitally important water quality because no one has petitioned to pollute it yet is exactly the kind of behavior that calls into question the ability of state agencies to protect Bristol Bay. TU-AK urges the public to contact DEC and ask the agency to reconsider its decision.