The state Senate is considering a bill that would make nominations for federal tier 3 water protections subject to a recommendation by three state agencies. Tier 3 is a clean water act designation that upholds the highest water quality standards. If passed the bill could impact a pending tier 3 nomination for the Chilkat River in Haines.
The Outstanding National Resource Waters designation, also known as Tier 3, provides the highest level of federal protection available for bodies of water under state policy. It prohibits activity that would degrade water quality unless the impact is limited and temporary.
The federal government requires states to have a process to consider nominations for Tier 3 protections. However, Alaska does not have one yet.
Last month, the Senate resources committee introduced Senate Bill 51, which would delegate authority over these nominations to the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, the Department of Fish and Game, and the Department of Natural Resources. All three agencies would need to agree on a Tier 3 designation before recommending it to the legislature.
In 2016, Governor Bill Walker introduced legislation that would have put Tier 3 decisions in lawmakers hands. But those bills were withdrawn after response from the public.
People from four communities in Alaska have nominated their waters for the Tier 3 designation. The pending nominations are for the Chilkat River in Haines, the Koktuli River in Bristol Bay, the Yakutat Forelands and the Chandalar River in Venetie.
The Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan nominated the Chilkat River for Tier 3 protections, but it has been a contentious process. While proponents say it is necessary to protect the quality of the river, especially for spawning salmon habitat, others say that the designation would have a negative impact on industry.
Meanwhile, Canadian mineral company Constantine Metal Resources has been carrying out mineral exploration for a potential mine upstream of the Chilkat River.
The Senate Resources Committee meets on Friday at 3:30 p.m. to discuss SB51.