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Wild weather, wild rivers, wild brews

Mountain peaks capped with wet coastal snow, rivers surging to flood stage, roads underwater — winter in Oregon is here and coming to a glass near you. While it’s hard to ignore the water flooding your backyard, it can be easy to forget that the water flowing out of your household tap began its journey as a drop of rain or a flake of snow touching down somewhere in an Oregon watershed.

One of the finest and wettest places precipitation can fall in our now happily soggy state is the little known Kalmiopsis region of Oregon’s southwest coast. This past week, its rugged coastal mountains were inundated with rain, some areas receiving as much as seven inches in 24 hours!

Unfortunately, this wild and remarkable place, abundant in public lands, Wild and Scenic Rivers and wilderness, is also the possible site of three nickel strip mines. Strip mining is a type of surface mining where earth and rock are scooped, scraped and blasted away to get at the underlying mineral layers. One of the strip mines would be located near Gold Beach, in the headwaters of Hunter Creek, and the other two near the California boarder on the Illinois and Smith rivers. Waterways downstream of the mine sites could also be impacted, such as the Wild and Scenic Rogue River, which collects the Illinois on its westward path to the Pacific.

To develop these nickel strip mines, whole hillsides would be scoured clean of their vegetation, irreversibly scarring the region’s natural beauty and jeopardizing the very source of the cleanest drinking water in the lower 48 states. According to the E.P.A., hard rock mining, including strip mining, is the number one toxic polluter in the United States — and that’s in places that don’t receive 60 inches of rain annually like the Kalmiopsis.

In the interest of protecting Oregon’s clean water, BricketownE Brewing Co. and 13 other southwest Oregon craft breweries joined Arch Rock Brewing Co. to form the Wild Rivers, Wild Brews Coalition. The purpose of our coalition is to voice the collective interest of Oregon’s craft breweries in protecting the Kalmiopsis region’s clean drinking water, rugged public lands, and salmon-studded rivers. And we’re not alone.

Earlier this year Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Rep. Peter DeFazio introduced the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act, which would protect over 100,000 acres of land from future mineral development. A few months later the Bureau of Land Management segregated the lands in question to give Congress time to enact permanent protections. Since that time, over 35,000 people have provided comment supporting these protections — including the support of over 200 southern Oregon businesses.

As a craft brewer, I know clean water is an essential ingredient for our high quality craft beer and Oregon’s vibrant craft brewing economy. Where clean water is in jeopardy, so are all of the industries and communities downstream. If the wild weather has you inside a little more often this winter, consider taking a moment to contact Wyden, Merkley and DeFazio and thank them for introducing legislation to protect the wild Kalmiopsis region from mining. If you’re a brewer, work for a brewery or just love the delicious beer served at your local brewery down the street, ask them to join the Wild Rivers, Wild Brews Coalition. Together we can make sure the rain falling on Oregon’s Kalmiopsis country is protected all the way to the tap.

Neil Smith is the head brewer at BricktownE Brewing Co. in Medford.