Chuitna citizens fight to keep water in streams for salmon  

The Chuitna Citizens Coalition, an Alaska Conservation Foundation grantee, recently got its day in court after four years of waiting for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to act on its application for water rights on Middle Creek, a vital salmon spawning stream within the Chuitna River watershed in Southcentral Alaska, directly west of Anchorage.

At the heart of the lawsuit is the group’s attempt to preserve the natural flow of Middle Creek, which lies within the proposed Chuitna Coal Project. If developed, this mine would be one of the largest open-pit mines in North America and will surely destroy this vital watershed.  

The plaintiffs are residents of the small village of Beluga and Cook Inlet set-net fishermen, who initially filed the application in 2009, and contend they have a right to keep enough water in Middle Creek to support wild salmon runs.

An earlier court ruling already found the state in violation of its own rules when it granted out-of-stream water diversions to the coal company developing the project without considering the Chuitna Citizen Coalition’s request to maintain instream flows.

In response, Gov. Sean Parnell introduced a measure, House Bill 77, which would strip Alaskans the right to keep water in our streams for salmon. The bill is currently on hold until the start of the next legislative session in January 2014, at which time the Parnell administration will once again attempt to push it through.

The court ruling on whether Alaskans have a right to keep water in their streams for salmon is expected soon.

More than five trillion tons of coal resources lie under Alaska’s pristine landscape. With growing global demand, a dozen coal-related projects – including the proposed Chuitna coal mine – have been proposed for development and eventual exportation to foreign markets.

ACF continues to fiscally sponsor the efforts of the Alaskans for Energy Freedom Campaign, a coalition of more than 30 conservation, tribal and citizen organizations working to prevent the impacts that developing Alaska’s coal will have on the Earth’s climate, as well as on the lands, waters, and people of Alaska.