Skip to main content

Tag: water quality

Water Rights for the Mine


Water Rights were historically OHA’s main vehicle for protecting surface water. Ecology took the position that since Washington State Water Law requires that water be put to beneficial use in order to get a water right, that if water is not being put to beneficial use, a water right is not required. This absurd interpretation of water law created a loophole that allowed Kinross to dewater Buckhorn Mountain and dump the water.

OHA’s Initial Concerns in the Mine’s Planning:

The dewatering of Buckhorn Mountain would be the most damaging aspects of the proposed mine. Ecology approved for Kinross to extract all the water from Buckhorn Mountain’s heart of gold. In order to mine, people, fish, and wildlife would be deprived of clean water. In some creeks, clean water would be replaced with treated water that is supposed to meet minimum standards. In other creeks, no replacement is planned. Mine shafts would change the way water flows from Buckhorn Mountain, affecting people dependent on that water. It would take 15-40 years to refill the aquifer inside Buckhorn Mountain. During that time, the creeks, springs, and seeps critical for healthy fish and wildlife would be deprived of water.

Water Rights for the Buckhorn Mine proposal approved by Ecology:
  • G4-34904 (Mine Dewatering). This application approved November 21, 2007 for mining, industrial and flow augmentation for a maximum instantaneous beneficial use of 100 gpm with a total proposed annual withdrawal of 12.6 acre-feet per year, derived from groundwater associated with mine dewatering and operations. This water would be collected from sumps within the mine and from dewatering wells.
  • G4-34905 (Domestic). This application approved October 25, 2007 for dust control, mining, and domestic use for site employees from a single well for a groundwater withdrawal  with a proposed of 5 gpm and 5.2 acre-ft/yr.
  • S4-34999 (Storm Water). This application approved October 24, 2007 for a surface water diversion for industrial and mining use to augment mine operational needs not met by the quantities requested under Application No. G4-34905, for 50 gallons per minute (gpm) (0.111 cfs). This water would come from collection of storm water drainage from ore and development rock stockpiles.
  • R4-35093 (Reservoir). This application approved October 24, 2007 permits a storage facility (surge pond) for water derived from mine dewatering and storm water.
  • CG-CCV1-4P200 (Newman). This change application, approved on September 26, 2006, changes the purpose, place, and time of use of a certificated seasonal irrigation water right for two groundwater wells to use in year-round dust control and seasonal mitigation of mining impacts on stream flows. The total certificated quantities for this right are 300 gpm and 200 acre-ft/yr.
  • G4-35084 (Lost Creek Ranch). This application approved November 21, 2007 for instream flow mitigation for a maximum of 125 gpm from one well in the Myers Creek watershed.
  • CS4-ADJ47P45 (Leslie Trust). This change application approved October 19, 2007 changes an existing water right from agricultural use to instream flow mitigation use during mining and during recovery of water levels associated with cessation of mine dewatering. for up to 0.156 cfs and 29.9 acre-ft/yr. Use would revert back to agricultural at the end of mitigation.
  • CS4-ADJ47P36 (Thorp Trust). This change application approved October 19, 2007 is a permanent change in use from stock watering to instream flow mitigation for 3 gpm.
  • CG3-29653P (K2 Mining). This change application, approved on September 28, 2006, changes the place of use from the K2 Mine to the proposed backfill borrow site in Ferry County. The total permitted quantities for this Water Right Permit are 50 gpm and 80 acre-ft/yr.
Problems with the water rights Ecology issued:
  • There is an unreasonable level of uncertainty regarding the hydrogeologic modeling of the impacts of mine dewatering and the resulting streamflow depletion.
  • Baseflow calculations of streamflows are questionable.
  • Aquifer properties where stream flow reductions would take place are scarce. The modeling inputs are based on untested assumptions of aquifer behavior.
  • Ecology fails to consider the cumulative impacts of granting Kinross water rights on local water supply and downstream water resources.
  • Granting water rights to Kinross would be inconsistent with past actions by Ecology.
  • The mitigation offered by Kinross does not come close to offsetting the harm to senior water right users and the public interest.
  • The speculative nature of the mitigation proposed does not meet the requirements that new water rights not impair existing rights and that new rights not be detrimental to the public welfare.
  • The mitigation offered by Kinross is off-site and out-of-kind, primarily enhancement of downstream wetlands and streams instead of a long-term commitment to on-site restoration.
  • No reliable mitigation is being offered for stream depletion during the post-mining refilling of the Buckhorn aquifer.
  • There is too much uncertainty that the mitigation plan would adequately protect existing rights and instream flows from harm.

Analysis by Stratus Consulting, Nov. 2010

Analysis of Water Quality Impacts at the Buckhorn Mountain Mine and Recommendations for Improvement

This report (PDF, 1 MB) responds to contaminant increases that triggered adaptive management in Gold Bowl Creek. The increases are more extensive than previously reported. The report provides an overview of important events at the mine, violations and orders submitted by Ecology, information on water quality standards and exceedences that have occurred but were not noted by Kinross or Ecology, and adverse environmental effects that have occurred and their current status. The report proposes recommendations for actions that could be taken by Kinross to increase environmental protection.

The use of reverse osmosis improved the water treatment facility and lowered some contaminants downstream from the discharge points, but others related to blasting have been decreasing more slowly.

Matrix of Annual Reporting Requirements

Click here to view the full PDF (67 KB)

After the first year of mine operation, not only were there were some significant water quality challenges on Buckhorn, but the required annual reporting was incomplete, lacking basic foundational data needed to analyze the mine’s impacts and the accuracy of model predictions. To quantify the inadequacy of the reporting, OHA completed an extensive review of the mine plans and developed a comprehensive matrix of annual reporting requirements. Using this matrix, OHA assessed the degree to which the company satisfied the requirements for Water Year 2008 and presented the results to the Department of Ecology and Kinross.

How Gold Mining Can Affect Water Quality

There are several ways in which gold mining can affect water quality. Some of the following information is taken from the Safe Drinking Water Foundation online article, “Mining and Water Pollution.” Local photos are displayed, pertaining to Buckhorn Mountain and the associated facilities.


A stream feeding the Nine Acre Wetland, located near the Buckhorn mining operation

Water is essential to life on our planet. A prerequisite of sustainable development must be to ensure uncontaminated streams, rivers, lakes and oceans.

Mining affects fresh water through heavy use of water in processing ore, and through water pollution from discharged mine effluent and seepage from tailings and waste rock impoundments. Increasingly, human activities such as mining threaten the water sources on which we all depend. Water has been called “mining’s most common casualty” (James Lyon, interview, Mineral Policy Center, Washington DC). There is growing awareness of the environmental legacy of mining activities that have been undertaken with little concern for the environment. The price we have paid for our everyday use of minerals has sometimes been very high. Mining by its nature consumes, diverts and can seriously pollute water resources.

Negative Impacts

While there have been improvements to mining practices in recent years, significant environmental risks remain. Negative impacts can vary from the sedimentation caused by poorly built roads during exploration through to the sediment, and disturbance of water during mine construction. Water pollution from mine waste rock and tailings may need to be managed for decades, if not centuries, after closure. These impacts depend on a variety of factors, such as the sensitivity of local terrain, the composition of minerals being mined, the type of technology employed, the skill, knowledge and environmental commitment of the company, and finally, our ability to monitor and enforce compliance with environmental regulations. One of the problems is that mining has become more mechanized and therefore able to handle more rock and ore material than ever before. Therefore, mine waste has multiplied enormously. As mine technologies are developed to make it more profitable to mine low grade ore, even more waste will be generated in the future.

Waste from the Mining Process

Ore is mineralized rock containing a valued metal such as gold…The ore is crushed into finely ground tailings for processing with various chemicals and separating processes to extract the final product.

Kettle River facilities

Types of Water Pollution from Mining

  • Acid Mine Drainage
    • Many of the metals being mined in North America, including the gold mined from Buckhorn, tend to be found in rock that contains sulfide minerals. When ore and surrounding rock are excavated during mining, the sulfides become exposed to water and air, and may form sulfuric acid. This acid in turn leaches metals and other substances from the rocks that can harm ecosystems. The acid will leach from the rock as long as its source rock is exposed to air and water and until the sulphides are leached out – a process that can last hundreds, even thousands of years. Acid is carried off the minesite by rainwater or surface drainage and deposited into nearby streams, rivers, lakes and groundwater. Acid mine drainage is considered one of the most serious environmental threats posed by mining, and it can devastate aquatic resources for generations.
  • Heavy Metal Contamination & Leaching
    • Heavy metal pollution is caused when such metals as arsenic, cobalt, copper, cadmium, lead, silver and zinc contained in excavated rock or exposed in an underground mine come in contact with water. Metals are leached out and carried downstream as water washes over the rock surface. Although metals can become mobile in neutral pH conditions, leaching is particularly accelerated in the low pH conditions such as are created by Acid Mine Drainage.
  • Processing Chemicals Pollution
    • This kind of pollution occurs when chemical agents (such as cyanide or sulphuric acid used by mining companies to separate the target mineral from the ore) spill, leak, or leach from the mine site into nearby water bodies. These chemicals can be highly toxic to humans and wildlife.
  • Erosion and Sedimentation
    • Mineral development disturbs soil and rock in the course of constructing and maintaining roads, open pits, and waste impoundments. In the absence of adequate prevention and control strategies, erosion of the exposed earth may carry substantial amounts of sediment into streams, rivers and lakes. Excessive sediment can clog riverbeds and smother watershed vegetation, wildlife habitat and aquatic organisms.
Drillpad exploration

Water Quantity

Mining can deplete surface and groundwater supplies. Groundwater withdrawals may damage or destroy streamside habitat many miles from the actual mine site. [end quote from the Mining and Water Pollution article]

Permit Needs Enforcement

Water quality at the Buckhorn Mine is regulated by the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, under the Clean Water Act. The continuous water quality permit violations at the Buckhorn Mine started shortly after mining operations began and have increased to the present day. The Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) has the responsibility to uphold and enforce the discharge permit. Over the past decade, OHA has regularly suggested corrective actions that would increase understanding of the contaminant flows at the mine site and lead to long-term solutions to the water quality problems.

Continue reading

Surface Water | Water Year 2008-9

Nitrates (Nitrite plus Nitrate, mg/l as Nitrogen) at the SW-14 monitoring point in the South Fork of Bolster Creek are significantly above baseline, indicating escape of contaminants outside the capture zone.

Since the Buckhorn Mine began operation in 2008, water quality monitoring data in surface water (as well as groundwater) have shown that mine contaminants are continuously escaping capture. The mine is required to capture and treat contaminated water. The mine has a permit to discharge water from the treatment facility and the treated water is relatively clean. However, the increased level of mine contaminants outside the mine is coming from unpermitted sources. Crown/Kinross has not established control of mine related contaminants, and the Buckhorn Mine continues to discharge contaminants in locations where no discharge is authorized, degrading surface and groundwater and even exceeding water quality standards.

Continue reading

Go Back