California's only working underground gold mine has to meet stringent, new discharge requirements or else cease releasing water into Kanaka Creek, a tributary of the Middle Yuba River.
The Original Sixteen-to-One Gold Mine in the tiny Sierra County village of Alleghany may get a cease-and-desist order in March from the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board.
Water that flows from the mine contains too much arsenic, said an official from the state agency. Meanwhile, mine President Mike Miller said the mine doesn't pollute and vows to fight any attempt to close it.
"(Arsenic is) the biggest problem," said Beth Thayer, a state water resources control engineer. Under the mine's current discharge permit, the mine discharge can't raise the creek's arsenic level to more than 360 parts per billion, Thayer said. "But they violated that," she said. "I think it's gone up to like 900 (parts per billion)." The average, daily dry weather flow from the mine is 280,000 gallons, Thayer said.
The state board will vote in March whether to issue a new, more-stringent permit that would require the discharge from the mine to have a maximum of 10 parts per billion of arsenic. That's a tougher standard not only because the new permit allows less arsenic, but because it would measure arsenic in the mine discharge - the current permit measures arsenic in the creek, where the discharge is diluted.
"There will always be water flowing from the mine," Miller said, and arsenic is a naturally occurring substance in the rock.
"We are not polluters. We are hard-rock miners," Miller said. He said he's had trouble before with regulators from the agency, whom he accused of "arrogance."
If they try to shut down the mine, he vowed, "They're going to get such a fight."
Thayer said, "We're not shutting him down. We're saying these are the conditions if he wants to discharge."
"We have certain regulations for discharging into creeks ... and there are no exceptions for any kind of business," she said.
A hearing on the cease-and-desist order and new discharge standard had been scheduled for early December in Sacramento. But that hearing has been rescheduled for sometime in March.
Reporter for The Union