Mining Water Right Denied–NF Smith Headwaters (CA/OR)
On September 29th, the Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) denied Red Flat Mining
Corporation's application for a water right for exploratory mining activities in the
headwaters of the North Fork Smith River (a.k.a the "Cleopatra" project). The
international mining company seeks to develop a nickel strip mine near Baldface Creek in Southern
Oregon, which is a tributary to the Wild and Scenic North Fork Smith River in Northern
California. The area is in the South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area, one of the most remote and
expansive backcountry areas in Southern Oregon.
In July, American Whitewater filed comments urging the ORWD to deny the application. Over a dozen other organizations weighed in and the ORWD received thousands of comments in opposition to the project. These comments expressed concern about impacts to recreation, water quality and supply, endangered species, wildlife habitat and more. The region is known for its high ecological and wilderness value, with several proposals to designate the area as Wilderness and the rivers in the region as Wild and Scenic.
Among the topics identified that led to the denial, the ORWD noted that the Smith River and its tributaries represent one of the "few remaining pristine water systems" that "afford renowned fishing and kayaking, which are important beneficial uses that require high water quality."
This is an important victory in the effort to protect the crystal clear waters of Southern Oregon. However, our work to protect the area is far from over. Red Flat has 60 days to appeal the decision, and it may seek another source of water for the mine. Additionally, there are several other mining threats in Southern Oregon, including a 2nd proposal from Red Flat near Gold Beach, OR, and another from RNR Resources on Rough and Ready Creek.
Thanks to everyone who submitted comments in July–your feedback made a difference. In the big picture, these proposals are a call for larger action, from withdrawing these pristine lands from the 1872 Mining Law, and reforming the 1872 Mining Law, to seeking permanent protection through Wilderness and Wild and Scenic designations. Stay tuned to American Whitewater for updates.
Thanks to Northwest Rafting Company for the pictures!