Water withdrawal permit for Graphite One raises questions
The Canadian-owned company Graphite One, proposing to start a graphite mine 50 miles north of Nome, has been issued a habitat permit from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to draw over 129,600 gallons of water a day from several creeks and ponds, notably Hot Springs Creek.
The proposed mining site is at the base of the Kigluaik Mountain range and is still in the planning stages. Drilling and sampling was performed in 2018 and will soon begin again this year.
“The Project is proposed as a vertically integrated enterprise to mine, process and manufacture high grade coated spherical graphite primarily for the lithium-ion electric vehicle battery market,” wrote the company in a March 18 press release.
News of the permit set off alarm bells at the Imuruk Basin Inter-Tribal Watershed Council in Teller. One of the reasons the Native Villages of Teller, Mary’s Igloo, and Brevig Mission established the IBITWCT was because of concern over Graphite One’s impact on water and subsistence resources in the Imuruk Basin Watershed. On March 8, 2017 the IBITWCT submitted comments to the Department of Natural Resources on Graphite One’s Temporary Use of Water Authorization, noting that the amount of water involved is defined as “significant” under Alaska Water Use Statute. The tribes took the position that the permit should not be issued due to potential negative impacts to fish and game resources and the public health. The comments requested that the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, DNR for short, require the mining concern to apply for a “proper water right permit.” The DNR issued the temporary use of water permits, TWUA for short, in June 2017, which authorized the removal of 129,600 gallons a day from several creeks and ponds in the drainage from June 1 through October 1.
In August 2018 a field crew from the Teller Traditional Council was conducting instream flow measurements on Hot Springs Creek and noticed a number of pink salmon spawning. This was the first time the field crew had observed salmon spawning in the creek. The water level was higher than it had been in recent years.
A complicated discussion of the responsibility of ADF&G’s Habitat Division in ensuring the holder of the permit would preserve adequate flow levels and protect fishery habitat ensued between the agency and the tribes. At issue is the wording of the TWUAs held by Graphite One and how ADF&G would enforce protection of the fish habitat. Hal Shepherd of Water Policy Consulting LLC forwarded data, photos, and videos of fish spawning to the ADF&G.
Is that a lot of water to be taken out of the creeks? “It is for those creeks,” Sheperd replied. “There are actually six of them that they’re taking water out of. Those are very shallow creeks and they do have salmon in them at times. For those creeks it is a lot of water.”
As the creeks are fed primarily by snowmelt, this year’s heavy snowfall will provide plenty of water. How the enforcement of adequate flow levels to protect the fish habitat will work has not been clearly defined.