On January 15th, American Whitewater submitted comments in support of clean-up activities at two
inactive mines in the Willamette National Forest in Oregon. The Ruth and Morning Star Mines,
which are located 2 miles east of Jaw Bone Flats in the Opal Creek Scenic Recreation Area,
produced lead and zinc ore until they closed in the late 1980's. Today, waste rock and soil
from the mines has the potential to contaminate nearby rivers and streams through leaching and
mass wasting events. The main stream impacted includes Battle Axe Creek, which flows into Opal
Creek and eventually the Little North Santiam River. The potential for runoff and mass wasting at
the mines is particularly high during periods of heavy rain and flooding.
The Human Health Risk Assessment for clean up of the mines considered camping, hiking, fishing
and hunting activities as ways that people could potentially be exposed to contaminated water.
Whitewater boating, however, was not listed, and American Whitewater provided comment to support
clean up activities so long as they are protective of all uses. Avid whitewater boaters regularly
run whitewater during and immediately after high rain events, and exposure time is different for
paddlers than the other activities considered.
Battle Axe Creek is a challenging backcountry whitewater run that is occasionally paddled, and
Opal Creek has been run from its headwaters to the Little North Santiam. Additionally, the run on
the Little North Santiam from Gold Creek to Three Pools is a popular winter creek run for
intermediate and advanced paddlers in the region.
The Detroit Ranger District in the Willamette National Forest released an Engineering Evaluation
and Cost Analysis of a variety of alternatives for cleaning up the mines in early December, and
is accepting comment through January 17th. You can learn more in the Notice for Public
and at the
Willamette National Forest's Mine Site Restoration Project Page
. The preferred
alternative involves moving and covering contaminated piles of waste rock, placing boulders for
bank and channel stabilization and monitoring water quality.