The environment impacts of mining gravel out of the Russian River will be less destructive because of a settlement between environmental groups and the mining company, after a nearly two year battle.
Under the settlement, the mining company will be allowed to take up to 175,000 tons of gravel a year for the first three years, instead of the 350,000 tons initially approved. An additional 40,000 tons per year could be salvaged from habitat improvement projects. The settlement also establishes a comprehensive monitoring and adaptive management process, under which annual mining plans will be reviewed each spring by an independent scientific review team, with input from the public, to ensure the mining company takes no more gravel than is replenished naturally from upstream.
“The Russian River is one of northern California’s jewels. People from all over the greater bay area and beyond know what a river is because of the Russian. We want to protect the river and the fish and wildlife that make it so special,” said Greg Loarie, an attorney with Earthjustice. “This settlement has improved the mining plan overall, lessened the environmental impacts and given the community a voice in the process.”
Earthjustice represented Russian Riverkeeper and the Redwood Empire Chapter of Trout Unlimited in the lawsuit over mining company Syar Industry’s proposed gravel mining project in the Alexander Valley Reach of the Russian River near the town of Geyserville. The lawsuit had challenged the environmental impact report for the mining project, which was approved by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors in December 2010.
“We’re hopeful going forward that with this settlement we’ll be able to protect the Russian River and the native fish and wildlife that rely on it,” said Don McEnhill of Russian Riverkeeper. “We will be participating actively in the ongoing adaptive management in order to make sure the process works and the river is protected.”
The Russian River was once a world-famous fishing river and anglers came from around the globe to match wits with its salmon and steelhead. In recent years salmon numbers have declined, largely due to habitat destruction in the river. Damage from in-stream gravel mining to salmon and steelhead is well-documented. Salmon are a resilient species and will respond favorably as river habitat is restored.