Mixing zone bill would reverse recent DEC changes

Posted: Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, has filed a bill that would prohibit the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation from authorizing pollution mixing zones in lakes, streams, rivers or other flowing freshwater where fish spawn.

Joining Seaton in sponsoring House Bill 74 is Anchorage Democrat Rep. Les Gara, and Kodiak Republican Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux. The bill has been sent to the House Special Committee on Fisheries and Resources.

The bill resurrects a measure promoted by Seaton in the House and Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, in the Senate last year. Those measures died in committee with the end of the 24th Legislature.

Early last year, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation adopted new mixing zone regulations that generally continued a ban on zones in salmon spawning areas, but redefined spawning areas by adding a time element — that is, they are spawning areas when spawning is occurring — thus making it possible that those areas could be used as mixing zones when no spawning is happening.

A mixing zone is a region of a water body where high concentrations of pollutants may be discharged to dilute in the flow of water. The theory is that once the boundaries of the mixing zones are reached, the concentration of pollutants would have fallen to acceptable levels.

Seaton’s bill would, essentially, return regulations to an earlier version, and codify specifically what a mixing zone is, take the time element out of the spawning ground definition, and broaden the ban on mixing zones for several species of resident freshwater fish.

The bill would ban the department for authorizing mixing zones in anadromous fish-spawning areas, and in fish-egg nests, called redds, for Arctic char, Arctic grayling, brook trout, burbot, cutthroat trout, Dolly Varden, lake trout, landlocked coho, king and sockeye salmon, northern pike, rainbow trout, sheefish and whitefish.

The bill also spells out that the prohibition would not apply to renewal of a municipal or village wastewater facility’s mixing zone authorization during the useful life of the facility. It also would not apply to manmade water areas that later attract fish to spawn.

It also would not apply to a suction dredge placer mine or a mechanical placer mine with a permit in effect on the effective date of the bill until the operator applied for a reauthorization of that permit.

“With the exception of ‘lake,’ the language is taken directly from the regulations that were in effect in the last decade,” Seaton said in his recent newsletter. “HB 74 clarifies that the prohibition on mixing zones in spawning areas does not apply when spawning occurs in the water of an entirely man-made holding pond or channel. It also exempts discharges from municipal wastewater and village safe water facilities from the mixing zone prohibition if spawning occurs in the mixing zone after it is initially permitted.”

Hal Spence can be reached at harold.spence@peninsulaclarion.com.

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