What the Sierra Nevada Conservancy can do about abandoned mines and mercury

MARYSVILLE, 6 December 2012 – The Sierra Fund CEO Izzy Martin briefed the Sierra Nevada Conservancy (SNC) Board of Directors on abandoned mines and mercury issues in the Sierra at their December 5-6 meeting in Marysville.

On December 6, she presented “Reclaiming the Gold Country: Opportunities for the Sierra Nevada Conservancy” which included background on the Sierra Nevada region’s history of intensive mining, and recommendations for what the SNC can do to address today’s ongoing impacts.   This followed a day of touring active and abandoned mine lands with TSF staff including Teichert’s Hallwood gravel operation, and the Blue Point Mine in Smartsville.

The following recommendations were excerpted from a handout to the board (click here to read the full handout Mercury, Abandoned Mines & Reservoirs: What Can the Sierra Nevada Conservancy Do?)


Potential Role for the Sierra Nevada Conservancy (SNC):

With the involvement of state, local and federal partners on the Board of Directors, the SNC is perfectly suited to the task of helping to “reclaim the Sierra.”  They could:

Fund More Pilot Projects: The SNC is already playing an important role as one of the few state government agencies willing to fund projects that assess and address abandoned mines.  For example, SNC funded the following pilot projects now underway that can help identify BMPs and BATs including:

  • Humbug Creek/Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park assessment and management planning project: The Sierra Fund, in cooperation with State Parks, the Department of Toxic Substances, CSU Chico and others, is currently working on this SNC funded project to identify mercury sources and potential remediation strategies for this abandoned hydraulic mine, now a State Park, discharging sediment and heavy metals into the Yuba River.
  • Combie Reservoir Sediment & Mercury Abatement Project: This model project at Combie Reservoir (funded in part by the SNC) is removing mercury from dredged sediment that have accumulated in the reservoir. By removing the mercury and selling the remaining clean sand and gravel the project maintains water storage capacity while implementing a best management practice that could be a model for other reservoirs in the Gold Country.

SNC could help identify and manage new sources of funding to help local governments and non-profit organizations in the region “reclaim the Sierra.” SNC could help local governments manage their abandoned mine lands and respond to the TMDL regulations under development.  For example, there is an opportunity this year to advocate for funds in the new water bond to be administered by SNC to provide funds and resources to local governments and non-profit organizations that are exploring ways to reduce mercury discharge from abandoned mine lands they own, to conduct pilot projects by local water agencies to remove mercury contaminated sediments to protect reservoir capacity, and for reducing mercury discharge from public sanitation systems.

SNC could support development of a University of California/California State University Task Force on Mercury AML remediation:  These institutions can help identify BATs and BMPs, establish good pre- and post- project monitoring protocols, help prioritize problems, etc.  The Sierra Fund’s Mining Work Group already has many of the needed partners for this effort.  This Task Force should be seeded with money from federal and state sources.  SNC could play a role in helping The Sierra Fund to incubate this task force.

Require a comprehensive assessment on all properties prior to acquisition using SNC funds. Only this kind of assessment ensures that legacy mines are identified before local government or land trusts assume ownership – and protects these entities from associated liabilities in perpetuity.