Conservation groups for now have thwarted an effort to develop an open-pit aggregate mine near Sunny Valley along the upper reaches of a Rogue River tributary.
The Oregon Water Resources Department has denied a request for a temporary water-use license needed for Grants Pass-based Havilah Resources LLC to proceed with a 126-acre mine adjacent to Grave Creek, saying the operation would harm Grave Creek and the wild salmon that need it.
The agency's Oct. 11 denial further states that the mine would reduce flows into the Rogue's Wild and Scenic Section below the mouth of Grave Creek, a launching spot for rafters and hikers who enter the protected stretch of river.
The mine proposal was opposed by WaterWatch of Oregon and other groups that feared the mine would harm the already marginalized creek and threaten wild coho salmon in the basin.
"Chalk up round one to the fish and the river," said WaterWatch spokesman Jim McCarthy in Ashland.
Havilah has two months to appeal.
The decision was for a temporary license that would have covered water use at the mine until a permanent license could be attained. An application for the permanent license is still pending.
The company's local representative could not be reached Thursday for comment.
Havilah Resources wants to excavate minerals as far as 65 feet below the surface on a 210-acre tract of land between Shanks and Grave creeks east of Interstate 5 near the hamlet of Placer.
Havilah proposed drilling 11 wells and pumping 8.5 cubic feet per second of the groundwater that feeds the creek. Grave Creek runs from a high of 120 cubic feet per second in February to a low of 3.6 cubic feet per second in September. After being used in mining operations, water would go through a filtration process and return to the creek.
The water would be removed from the pit by sump pumps and used during regular mining operations, including dust abatement on a yet-to-be-built road and for watering 50-foot buffers between the pit and the creeks, according to Havilah Resources' application.
Opponents claim the mine would inappropriately take water from an already over-appropriated Grave Creek and reduce flows in the Rogue, one of the country's first dedicated wild rivers. Doing so would harm the Rogue's wild salmon and steelhead, including threatened coho salmon, while further hurting Grave Creek's already limited water quality and flow — particularly during hot summer months — the groups claimed in their opposition.
But Havilah Resources said the operation's design not only wouldn't harm Grave Creek but would actually boost its low summer flows.
Special "bio-filtration trenches" that would use organic matter to filter the mine's water could help create a groundwater buffer between the mine and the creeks, according to Havilah Resources. The company also argued that water from those buffers would eventually find its way into the creeks, thereby improving creek flow.
Water resources officials received 81 comments in opposition to the permit, according to the decision.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.