Monday, August 8, 2016

Historic Water Quality

Historically, Stibnite water quality resulting from past and present mining activities  of the surface water has nearly always surpassed Forest Service goals.

Rock crusher at Stibnite in 1994. Photo courtesy of PNF.

I found this chart provided by the Payette National Forest from 1994 which shows the results of their sampling for the years shown.


For Hg (atomic symbol for mercury), their limit was 0.0024 parts per million  (ppm). No Forest Service tests show any results surpassing 0.0008, or one third of the set limit. 

I personally conducted water samples from the East Fork and the confluence with Sugar Creek  (to keep the Forest Service honest) on behalf of the mining company I worked for at the time. 
We had our water samples independently tested at an independent laboratory in Garden City, Idaho.

 It was quite common for the independent lab tests to be substantially lower than the Forest Service's stated results. However,  both tests agreed that mine discharge into the local watershed was far below acceptable levels. 

Unfortunately, this data and that conducted by mining companies of that era focus less directly on Sugar Creek. But it does show that anything dumping from Sugar Creek into the East Fork for the stated years had minimal impact.

This should give you a good basis to file a Freedom of Information Act request with the Payette National Forest, to document that there is minimal mine discharge into the local river system. 

I have done a post 2007 wildfire Freedom of Information Act request for water quality results to compare how much toxic filth wildfires are responsible for as compared to how much mining contributed in the absence of wildfires.

 Ironically, one of my FOIA requests about information pertaining to degraded water quality due to wildfires was put on hold. Of all things,  due to ....wait for it.....another intense landscape erasing out of control wildfire the Payette National Forest has little hopes of containing anytime soon.

Instead of the useful helpful cheerful response,  I got an automatically generated email from Payette National Forest Freedom of Information Officer Laurie Pillars stating

 "Thank you for your message. I am out of the office on a fire assignment. I will most likely not have access to my mail so I will respond as soon as possible after I return. Thanks for your patience!"

Not surprising, since it seems  the Forest Service has always been less than forthcoming with that data.

After multiple FOIA requests over the last few years,  the partial list they gave me did show substantial increases in toxic metal releases through natural causes. Which is to be expected since mercury is liberated from the mineral Cinnabar once it surpasses 430°F.

The fires of 2007 burned so hot that several firefighters stated that the ground was heated to almost 500 degrees up to four feet into the earth where many tree roots burned underground far into the winter months. 
Mercury and arsenic containing sediments free flowing into Profile Creek in 2010, three years after a catastrophic wildfire ravaged the hillsides unabated in 2007. To date,  the Forest Service has made zero effort to contain this or other massive mudslides resulting from poorly managed wildfires. 

Mudflow pictured crossing Profile Road and dumping directly into Profile Creek

 Profile Gap Road to Big Creek was buried under 30 feet of sediment. The four feet diameter culvert was never found. The stream crossing this section of roadway has to be forded which disturbs the sediments and accelerates the creeping mud flows,  volcanic in origin,  still dumping into Profile Creek. 

 The confluence of Profile Creek approximately 8 miles downstream of Sugar Creek. Profile Creek  (left) looks like flowing sewage from the above pictured mudslide the Forest Service is doing nothing about. Estimated 1/2 million cubic yards (.97 million tons) of filth and debris dumped into the stream and adjacent riparian areas during this one catastrophic mudflow in 2010. Compare that to the 28 tons the Forest Service is trying to abate on Sugar Creek Road,  which is the estimated sediment annually flowing into the river from an historic roadway and popular recreational route which the Forest Service has now closed  (due to 28 tons of sediment per year estimated).
*No government wastes jokes needed*

Active wildfires burning unabated during 2008. Not a firefighter in sight. Fire near Salt Creek, four miles downstream of Sugar Creek and its confluence with the East Fork of the South Fork of the Salmon River. Area shown here is high in natural mercury,  arsenic,  lead, zinc, antimony and within or just outside  the boundaries of the Stibnite Mining District. An area the Forest Service says is of great concern for dumping toxic sludge into "critical endangered species habitat".

Two years later, here is that same area experiencing toxic metal containing mudflows dumping into the East Fork of the South Fork River approximately two miles downstream of Sugar Creek and its confluence with the East Fork. 
*Photo 2010, by Scott Amos*

In the wildfire seasons of 2007-2008, my brother and I witnessed tree stumps on fire in the area on our snowmobile trips,  with more than two feet of snow on the ground. 

Much of the mercury which was undoubtedly turned to liquid by the heat was trapped underground and is being liberated slowly into the watershed as mud flows and ground seepage from burned areas continues to make its way to the river. 

Although mercury evaporates readily into the air at room temperature,  water prevents the evaporation of mercury. Mercury trapped in holes or pockets underwater can remain there for years if not centuries until a flood or other means flushes it downstream. 
Trees and other carbon based vegetation soak up and retain high levels of mercury and arsenic. When those plants die or get incinerated, they release the toxic metals into local aquifers or into the smoke and soot released by wildfires. 

In the 850,000 acres of wildfires that ravaged Idaho in 2007, several thousand tons of mercury and arsenic were sent billowing into the stratosphere on a level that was photographed by the International Space Station. 
NASA satellite photos of Montana and Idaho forest fires on August 17, 2007.

Millions more tons of mercury and arsenic containing sediments were liberated on steep hillsides and are just waiting for the next big flood before the toxic metals they contain get dumped into the Salmon River and its tributaries which is the drinking water for millions of people living downstream.

Unnatural Landscapes

The Forest Service calls wildfires "natural". Geologic records and history preserved by native American people show that the landscape cleansing wildfires of the last two decades are anything but... "natural".

Historically, the forests surrounding Yellow Pine never held more than a few hundred trees per acre. 

150 years ago the US Government began a massive campaign to put out all wildfires.

Under FDR's leadership, the Civilian Conservation Corps  (CCC) began an aggressive campaign planting up to 10,000 trees per acre as an investment in America,  intended for future cash crop harvests. More than 2.3 billion trees were planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps. 

Not only did this massively increase the fuel load to help propagate cataclysmic   wildfires,  it sucked up most of the moisture in the soil and starved historic forests of both nutrients and life giving water. So much so, that planted forests in Arizona and parts of New Mexico  have sucked entire river systems dry.

    Forest thinning can mimic natural wildfire, with similar effects. Coupled with seasonal controlled burns, thinning has been shown to improve overall forest health and reduces the damage being done by current Forest Service management policies.

study from Northern Arizona University found that reducing the amount of flammable fuels cooled fire’s severity. More trees lived through wildfires in places that had been thinned than acres that hadn’t, the study found.

These problems were multiplied with the passage of the Northwest Forest Management Act and other anti-use bills such as the 2001 Roadless Rule which essentially locks every taxpaying American out of the forest they own.

Today America imports 1/3 of its lumber from rain forests and other sources halfway around the globe while the Forest Service leaves standing dead and dying timber to rot, while simultaneously begging Congress for more billions to fight expected wildfires. Every year being increasingly worse than the last. 

Scott Amos 208.297.0634

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