Decision reached on Stream 2003 Reservation of Water applications
Decision on Chuitna Citizens Coalition Inc.’s three applications
(Anchorage, AK) – The Division of Mining, Land & Water’s Water Resources Section has issued its decision on the Chuitna Citizens Coalition Inc.’s three Reservation of Water applications for Middle Creek/Stream 2003, a tributary of the Chuitna River. These applications were requested to protect flows for the purpose of protection of fish and wildlife habitat, migration, and propagation, one of the four purposes authorized by Alaska Statute 46.15.145.
The decision was signed on Oct. 6 by Water Resources Section Chief David Schade and published today. The decision grants a Reservation of Water to the Chuitna Citizens Coalition in the lower reach of Middle Creek/Stream 2003. The decision does not grant the applications for the main reach and the middle reach of Middle Creek/Stream 2003. This decision does not award any water rights or permits for mining-related activities.
Before granting a Reservation of Water, the Water Resources Section must make four findings required by AS 46.15.145(c): “The commissioner shall issue a certificate reserving the water applied for under this section if the commissioner finds that,
(1) The rights of prior appropriators will not be affected by this reservation;
(2) The applicant has demonstrated that a need exists for the reservation;
(3) There is unappropriated water in the stream or body of water sufficient for the reservation; and
(4) The proposed reservation is in the public interest.”
In this case the Water Resources Section also received competing water right applications for use of water in Middle Creek/Stream 2003 to support PacRim Coal LLP’s proposed coal mine. When it receives applications for competing uses from the same source of water and there is not enough water to supply all applicants, the Water Resources Section is required to balance the interests involved and give preference to "the use that alone or in combination with other foreseeable uses will constitute the most beneficial use." (Alaska Statute 46.15.090)
In the decision, Schade wrote that he found two arguments regarding the Reservation of Water applications to be compelling. First, the applicant made a compelling argument that the Department of Natural Resources should not allow PacRim to develop a coal mine that would significantly and negatively impact the Chuitna River watershed, and second, the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority and others made the compelling argument that while the state and federal permitting processes must be stringent, they must also allow for a predictable and complete permitting process that allows all available information to be compiled and presented to the state and federal regulatory agencies.
“The Water Resources Section will analyze the entire Chuitna watershed and the consequences and protections of the different proposed uses. This review will occur after other mine-related permitting is complete and the best information is available for all the Chuitna water right applications," Schade said.
"I really appreciated the public’s involvement in this process. We received more than 8,500 comments and held a hearing on the objections raised by a number of groups with conflicting views about this decision. This involvement was helpful in making the best decision possible,” Schade said.
Division of Mining, Land and Water Director Brent Goodrum added, “This decision culminates a vast amount of hard work and public participation on these applications. The decision provides for the continued protection of fish and wildlife habitat within in the Chuitna River watershed. The decision also allows for a continued rigorous evaluation of the proposed coal project by state and federal regulators.” He also noted, “This decision is unique in that it is the first time that the State of Alaska is awarding a water reservation on state waters to a private entity.”
By issuing this decision, the Department has complied with and fulfilled an Alaska Superior Court order to issue a decision on the Chuitna Citizens Coalition’s Reservation of Water applications. The decision may be appealed to the Commissioner of the Department Natural Resources within 20 days.
To read the decision and related documents, go to http://dnr.alaska.gov/mlw/water/reservations/chuitna.cfm.