Action Alert-Additional Information–Public Notice Instream Flow Reservations-Chuitna Coal Mine

Additional Information:


Please tell DNR they should reject the proposed In stream Flow



What is an In‐stream Flow Water Reservation?

DNR may grant a property right to keep a minimum amount of water within a stream. The right is named an in stream flow reservation (IFR) because it keeps the water in the stream.   This right prohibits others from withdrawing or diverting the reserved water from the stream.  Under Alaska law, anyone – a person, agency, environmental organization, etc. – may apply.  Alaska is the only state that allows an in stream flow reservation to be granted to a non‐government entity.  


Approving the in stream flow is not in the public interest and ignores the statutory requirement to consider competing applications together.

When there are competing applications to use the same water, state law ¾ AS 46.15.090¾ requires DNR to review competing applications at the same time.  This is required so that the state can select the use that is the most beneficial to the State.  The Chuitna Coal Mine permitting processes will inform the public of the potential environmental effects, proposed methods of protecting fish habitat and stream flow, and benefits of the mine. The public will have the opportunity to comment during those processes.Processing the in stream flow applications requires DNR to evaluate the potential public interest. It makes sense to evaluate the water right request and the mine permits together, after the public can view mitigation, potential impacts, and benefits through the permitting processes. But it does not make sense to adjudicate a flow reservation application before mine permit evaluation is complete.   


The proposed in stream flow reservation is intended to stop the Chuitna Project before the permit process.

If DNR approves the application, a certificate is issued and the reserved water is removed from appropriation for with draw al or diversion. The mine would be prohibited from diverting that water to maintain downstream flow unless DNR later revokes the reservation. 


Pre‐empting the permit process is wrong.  Alaska’s businesses and public rely on Alaska’s permit process…that is what it is there for. If organizations can pre‐empt the permit processes, why would anyone invest? If the agencies determine that the mine project’s plan meet regulatory requirements ¾ including requirements to maintain fish habitat and stream flow ¾ the project should be allowed to proceed but the in‐stream flow reservations are impediments to development. If the agencies determine that the coal project’s plans do not meet regulatory requirements, the project will not receive the required permits and there is no need for the in‐stream flow reservation. The state of Alaska has nothing to lose by rejecting the in‐stream flow reservation applications


Chuitna Coal project will protect fish.

PacRim coal spent over $4,000,000 over the course of 4 years documenting habitat, stream flows and the number of smolt produced from Middle Creek .  These studies determined that 98% of the salmon produced in Middle Creek are Coho  salmon.  According to ananalys is of this data by DNR, adult returns are estimated to be between 246 and1789 adult coho each year returning to the entire tributary. The commercial harvest value of the salmon produced in Middle Creek is between $1,500 and $10,600 per year.  The mine is developing proposals to protect those fish resources during and after mining so these fish are not lost to the system.

 The Chuitna Coal proposal would temporarily eliminate some fish habitat ¾ but it is preparing plans to construct replacement habitat before mining begins. The project proposes to construct adequate fish habitat to maintain are a smolt production during mining. This will include monitoring to measure the levels of smolt production during mining. Once the mine reclamation is complete, the replacement habitat remains, and the project will open the habitat in the reclaimed mine area to wild salmon stocks. In the long run, there will be more fish habitat (and potential smolt production) from the Chuit River than currently exists due to the mine’s mitigation and reclamation. Approving the in stream flow and denying the mine permits could paradoxically result in less habitat in the long run.


Chuitna Coal project provides significant economic benefits to Alaskans.

The state of Alaska stands to lose significant economic benefits by granting the in‐stream flow reservation without a full permitting process. The mine’s construction cost is estimated at$750 million.  Each year during mining, it estimates it will employ 350 people with an average annual payroll of $35 million.

 Approving the In stream Flow Reservation applications will diminish the value of the lands owned by Alaska Mental Health Trust. The Alaska Mental health Trust was established by Congress to address mental health issues in Alaska and to generate revenues from their lands to fund their programs. PacRim will pay an estimated $12.5 million annually ($300 million over the life of the mine) in royalties to the Alaska Mental Health Trust and millions in taxes to the state and the Kenai Borough.


DNR’s decision is precedent setting. It could affect development from Southeast Alaska to the North Slope.

This pre‐emptive water right request is not an isolated case.

  • ·    An individual applied for an in stream flow that would stop the Susitna‐Watana Dam.
  • ·    Trout Unlimited applied for an in stream flow that would stop the Chakachamna Lake Hydro Project.
  • ·    Greenpeace applied for an in stream flow for all of the water in the Kaparuk River, which would have eliminated winter ice‐road construction for a large part of the north slope.
  • ·    In fact, there are only 34 in stream flow applications (other than from government agencies), but 29 of them ¾ –85% –¾ were submitted by groups opposed to a particular project.
  • ·    The applicant for this request did no field work; they took no scientific measurements to support their application. They used the field data that the Chuitna Coal Project owners gathered for over 20years, paid for, and made public. Most of the other non‐agency pre‐emptive applications are similar.

If a pre‐emptive instream flow application is approved for the Chuitna Project, the same pre‐emptive battle will be fought over other projects as well.

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Author: Ann Northcutt

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