Tribes’ Instream Flow Reservation Applications for Streams At-Risk from Graphite One Mine Accepted by DNR

June 28, 2023
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NOME – Applications for instream flow reservation permits submitted by the Native Village Traditional Councils of Teller and Brevig Mission to protect two critical salmon-bearing streams in the Imuruk Basin threatened by the proposed Graphite One mine were accepted for filing by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources last May.

The proposed Graphite One mine would be located in the Kigluaik Mountains on the south side of the Imurak Basin. Mining operations would require numerous wells with an estimated flow demand of 7,000 gal/hr, and the 1km wide open pit mine would. The mine’s pre-feasibility study outlines plans to dump toxic waste water from acid-generating rock tailings into salmon-bearing streams and feed directly into the Imuruk Basin. 

The Graphite One mine is part of a national push to expand domestic critical mineral supply chains for renewable energy infrastructure, electric vehicles, and other green technologies and recently announced its intentions to expand the mine beyond the original proposal. Tribes in the area, however, have myriad concerns about the proposed mine, including the negative impacts on subsistence resources, water and air quality, instream flows, fish and wildlife habitat, local road infrastructure, and the toxic afterlife of the mine. According to Gilbert Tocktoo, President of the Native Village of Brevig Traditional Council: “We have traditionally hunted and fished in the Imuruk Basin for thousands of years. This ever expanding mine, however, will irreversibly harm this abundant area that has fueled our subsistence economy.”

The tribes believe, however that mining for critical minerals must not be done in a manner that denudes salmon and other native fishery habitat. One way the Native Villages of Teller, Brevig and Mary’s Igloo are trying to protect such habitat in relation to the potential impacts of the Graphite One mine, is to collect years of flow data from streams most at-risk from the mine to quantify and apply for the right to keep the average base flows in the streams. While the Tribes’ applications were accepted and a provisional priority date granted, the actual instream flow reservations for the two streams is a long way off. DNR, for example, has yet to decide whether more data needs to be collected before it can start processing the applications, is requiring the tribes to waive sovereign immunity before it will process the applications and claims it has a 15-20 year timeline for adjudicating applications. Graphite One has not applied for any water rights to-date.


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