The Recommended Determination marks the most advanced step in the Clean Water Act 404(c) process, supported by record numbers of Bristol Bay residents and Alaskans
ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Today, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took an important step to safeguard the fisheries, communities and economy of Bristol Bay by deploying Clean Water Act authorities to protect the headwaters of Bristol Bay, Alaska. The agency announced a Recommended Determination for the Bristol Bay headwaters that would prohibit and restrict mine waste in rivers, streams, and wetlands of the north and south forks of the Koktuli River and Upper Talarik Creek.
“EPA did the right thing today. Bristol Bay is the best salmon fishery in the world. The vast majority of local Alaska Native peoples and athletes across the United States want to see it protected. Thank you EPA for applying common sense to a common problem for the common good,” said Chris Wood, President and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “We thank EPA for its commitment to carrying out the Bristol Bay Clean Water Act 404(c) process and honoring the wishes of affected Alaska Native villages. We urge Administrator Regan to finalize the protections for Bristol Harbor as soon as possible.”
“We are excited to see this important step happen and we will not let our guard down until these safeguards are on the other side of the finish line. It would be great to start 2023 with final approval of these protections. Many Alaskans, like me, who depend on salmon and the clean water of Bristol Bay, need reassurance that the resources that sustain us will not be threatened by incompatible development,” said Brian Kraft, president of the Katmai Service. Providers and owner of two Bristol Sport Fishing Lodges in the bay.
“The Recommended Determination is a major step forward in a process Alaskans have championed for more than a decade,” said Nelli Williams, Alaska director for Trout Unlimited. “We thank EPA for continuing to advance Clean Water Act 404(c) safeguards for the Bristol Bay headwaters. We encourage EPA to act quickly to issue a Final Determination. The science and public support are overwhelmingly in favor of the Bristol Bay Clean Water Act protections.”
EPA’s Recommended Determination follows its May 2022 Proposed Determination to protect the Bristol Bay watershed. EPA received more than half a million comments, including a record number of comments from Bristol Bay and Alaska residents who supported the Proposed Determination and requested that EPA end the protections as soon as possible. The EPA now has 60 days to issue a Final Determination or to affirm, modify, or terminate the protections for the Bristol Bay watershed, including its world-class sockeye salmon fishery that broke an all-time record with more than 78 million sockeye salmon. this summer.
BACKGROUND OF THE CLEAN WATER ACT 404(c) BRISTOL BAY
Local tribes and commercial and sport fishing groups first petitioned EPA to use the Clean Water Act to proactively protect Bristol Bay headwaters in 2010. After numerous rounds of scientific review and evaluation, the protections Clean Water Act proposals were published in 2014 but never finalized. In 2019, the EPA, under the previous administration, attempted to withdraw the 2014 Proposed Determination, a snap decision based on policy and without scientific justification. Trout Unlimited challenged the EPA’s decision in court, considering it arbitrary and capricious and contrary to the governing norm of the Clean Water Act. In July 2021, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of TU, finding that EPA could withdraw a proposed determination only if the discharge of materials was unlikely to have an “unacceptable adverse effect.”
Following the lawsuit, EPA Administrator Regan publicly acknowledged the importance of clean water to the Bristol Bay region and vowed to work to protect the fishery and the people who depend on it. In January 2022, the agency announced that it intended to issue a revised Proposed Determination by May 31, 2022 for the Bristol Bay watershed in Alaska. The revised Proposed Determination was published on May 25, 2022, prompting a 4-month comment period and generating over half a million comments in support of the Clean Water Act protections. EPA then extended its timeline for reviewing comments and issuing a Recommended Determination to December 2, 2022.
During previous public comment periods seeking input on the Bristol Bay Clean Water Act section 404(c) action, more than 4 million comments from Bristol Bay and Alaska residents, as well as others from across the country backed strong protections for the Bristol Bay watershed. .
Trout Unlimited, the nation’s oldest and largest cold-water fisheries conservation organization, is dedicated to caring for and restoring America’s rivers and streams so our children can experience the joy of wild trout and salmon and native people. Across the country, TU brings local, regional, and national grassroots organizations, enduring partnerships, science-backed political strength, and legal firepower on behalf of salmon and trout fisheries, healthy waters, and vibrant communities. In Alaska, we work with athletes to ensure the state’s salmon and trout resources stay healthy well into the future through our local chapters and offices in Anchorage and Juneau.
Katmai Service Providers represents 64 Alaskan fishing, hunting, bear watching and tourism businesses operating in the Bristol Bay region. The group is dedicated to protecting resources through stewardship, promoting public access, fostering cooperation among users, participating in future development planning, promoting safety and education, and improvement of recreational activities in Katmai National Park. Brian Kraft is the president of KSP and the owner of two Southwest Alaska sport fishing lodges, one in Igiugig, Alaska and one near Dillingham, Alaska.