Officials deny water permit for gravel pit near Rogue River

Officials deny water permit for gravel pit near Rogue River
By The Associated Press
October 18, 2012

GRANTS PASS — The state of Oregon has denied a water permit for a mining company that wants to develop a gravel pit along a tributary of the Rogue River.

The Oregon Department of Water Resources said there is already too much water being taken out of Grave Creek, which flows into the Rogue at the start of the section that is one of Oregon’s most popular whitewater runs.

Water rights program manager Tim Wallin said Grave Creek ranks high on a list of waterways needing more water for salmon, and unless Havilah Resources LLC of Grants Pass can secure some other water right to put back in the river, it cannot take out what it needs for mining.

A local representative of Havilah did not immediately return a telephone call for comment.

Conservation groups that had opposed the project praised the decision.

“We commend the Water Resources Department for standing up for one of Oregon’s most special places,” Kimberley Priestley, senior policy analyst for WaterWatch, said in a statement.

The proposed gravel pit would excavate 126 acres about 12 miles upstream of the mouth of Grave Creek, in an area mined heavily for gold since the Gold Rush era.

Havilah proposed drilling 11 wells and pumping 8.5 cubic feet per second of the groundwater that feeds the creek. Grave Creek runs from a high of 120 cubic feet per second in February to a low of 3.6 cubic feet per second in September. After being used in mining operations, water would go through a filtration process and return to the creek.

The water already is too warm to meet state standards for salmon, and withdrawing more water would make things worse, Wallin said. Pumping groundwater would deny water to the creek. The mine would also reduce water flowing downstream to the popular whitewater section of the Rogue.

Havilah has argued in its application that the project would put more water into the creek, and water going into the creek would be carefully filtered

The application denied Oct. 11 was for a temporary permit to allow operations to start prior to securing a permanent permit, Wallin said. The decision on the permanent permit is still pending, but denial of the temporary permit does not bode well for it, he said.