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Supporting Mining Clean Up In Opal Creek Headwaters (OR)

Posted: 01/16/2013
By: Megan Hooker

On January 15th, American Whitewater submitted comments in support of clean-up activities at two inactive mines in the Willamette National Forest in Oregon. The Ruth and Morning Star Mines, which are located 2 miles east of Jaw Bone Flats in the Opal Creek Scenic Recreation Area, produced lead and zinc ore until they closed in the late 1980's. Today, waste rock and soil from the mines has the potential to contaminate nearby rivers and streams through leaching and mass wasting events. The main stream impacted includes Battle Axe Creek, which flows into Opal Creek and eventually the Little North Santiam River. The potential for runoff and mass wasting at the mines is particularly high during periods of heavy rain and flooding. 

The Human Health Risk Assessment for clean up of the mines considered camping, hiking, fishing and hunting activities as ways that people could potentially be exposed to contaminated water. Whitewater boating, however, was not listed, and American Whitewater provided comment to support clean up activities so long as they are protective of all uses. Avid whitewater boaters regularly run whitewater during and immediately after high rain events, and exposure time is different for paddlers than the other activities considered. 
Battle Axe Creek is a challenging backcountry whitewater run that is occasionally paddled, and Opal Creek has been run from its headwaters to the Little North Santiam. Additionally, the run on the Little North Santiam from Gold Creek to Three Pools is a popular winter creek run for intermediate and advanced paddlers in the region. 
The Detroit Ranger District in the Willamette National Forest released an Engineering Evaluation and Cost Analysis of a variety of alternatives for cleaning up the mines in early December, and is accepting comment through January 17th. You can learn more in the Notice for Public Comments and at the Willamette National Forest's Mine Site Restoration Project Page. The preferred alternative involves moving and covering contaminated piles of waste rock, placing boulders for bank and channel stabilization and monitoring water quality. 
Thanks to Zach Collier and Northwest Rafting Company for the photos.


Associated Rivers

Battle Axe Creek OR
Santiam, Little North (Classic Opal) OR
Santiam, Little North (Upper Opal) OR
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