Five Endangered U.S. Rivers Threatened by Mines: Group

Five of the U.S.’s most endangered waterways are threatened by pollution from mining, burning of coal and metals exploration, according to the environmental group American Rivers.

The Colorado River is considered the most endangered river in the country as the water needs of 36 million residents and four million irrigated acres along its length draw from the drought-stressed river, the organization said today in a report.

The Catawba River in North Carolina was named the fifth most-endangered of 10 in the 2013 report as a seeping Duke Energy Corp. pond containing coal ash from the Riverbend Steam Station in Gaston County may be contaminating a reservoir that supplies drinking water to about 860,000 people.

Duke hasn’t responded to a March notice that it will be sued under the Clean Water Act to stop coal-ash pollution of Mountain Island Lake, a drinking water reservoir formed by damming the Catawba, Rick Gaskins, who monitors the site as the Catawba Riverkeeper for the non-profit organization, said in an April 15 interview.

The Southern Environmental Law Center advocacy group told Duke it will sue on the Riverkeeper’s behalf unless the company acts to halt the pollution within 60 days.

The report “does nothing to serve the Catawba River,” Erin Culbert, a spokeswoman for Charlotte, North Carolina-based Duke, said in an e-mail yesterday. “We will continue to collaborate with the 18 public drinking water utilities along the river who are taking real action to protect our water supply for this and future generations.”

Water Quality

Seepage is normal at earthen dams and does not affect the reservoir’s water quality, Culbert said in the e-mail. Riverbend Steam Station was retired on April 1.

The Elk River flowing through British Columbia, Montana and Idaho runs near five Teck Resources Ltd. coal mines. Runoff from the mines has polluted the river with selenium that may poison the endangered bull trout and Kootenai River white sturgeon fish, the group said.

Slag dumped into the Columbia River from Teck’s metal smelter at Trail, B.C., resulted in “hazardous substances” flowing into Washington state, Teck said Feb. 7 in a statement.

Teck is investing as much as C$600 million ($588 million) in water diversion and treatment facilities to improve management of selenium and other substances released by mining, Alana Duffy, a spokeswoman for the Vancouver-based company, said in an e-mail on April 15. The company declined to comment on the report before seeing it, Duffy said.

Mine Discharge

Pollution that may be generated by the Shepherd Bend coal mine, a 1,773-acre site proposed by closely held Drummond Co. with 29 wastewater discharge points, threatens the Black Warrior River in Alabama, American Rivers’ seventh most-endangered river, it said. Spokesmen for Birmingham-based Drummond didn’t respond to an e-mailed request for comment.

Exploring for, mining and smelting nickel and copper also threaten the Rough & Ready and Baldface creeks in Oregon and the Boundary Waters system of wetlands and rivers in northern Minnesota, the environmental group said in the report.

Other rivers cited on the Washington-based organization’s list are Georgia’s Flint River, the San Saba River in Texas, Little Plover River in Wisconsin and the Niobrara River in Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming.

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