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Making Sure Mining Doesn’t Pollute Idaho's Water

Idaho has a long and colorful history of mining, but too many of these mines have polluted streams and contaminated landscapes. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 40% of watersheds in the West are contaminated by mining activity. The Idaho Conservation League works to ensure that mining activities don’t threaten human health, special places, or Idaho’s clean water. We scrutinize proposed new mines, improving those that are acceptable and fighting those that are not in Idaho’s best interests.

Protecting Idaho's Water

Mining in Idaho

We all use metals every day. We also need clean air and clean water and a safe environment for our families from toxic waste. Mining is still managed under the Mining Law of 1872 which prioritizes mining over all other uses. We are working to update this law to make sure mining is managed responsibly and that local communities have a greater say in whether a mine project proceeds or not.

International mining companies are scouring Idaho’s vast public lands for more ore to extract. It’s a good bet that an exploration drilling project or even a new mine is being proposed upstream of your drinking water, favorite fishing stream, or place special to you and your family.

Here are some of the mining projects ICL is currently working on to make sure that clean water around the state is protected from mining contamination.

Main Salmon River floaters

Midas Gold’s Stibnite Gold and Kilgore Projects

Safeguarding Idaho’s Streams and Wilderness

Midas Gold’s Stibnite Gold Project

The East Fork South Fork of the Salmon River is many things — a rambunctious whitewater river, a stronghold for bull trout, steelhead, and Chinook salmon stronghold — and the target for an open-pit mine. Canadian mining company Midas Gold hopes to dewater the river, divert it into a tunnel, excavate a 400’ deep pit under the riverbed, and then backfill the pit with mining waste from another open pit. Meanwhile, pristine tributaries to the East Fork South Fork would be buried in mine tailings and waste rock hundreds of feet deep. While Midas Gold’s stated intent is to clean up and restore a historic mining area that was contaminated and abandoned by previous mining companies, the footprint of the proposed Stibnite Gold Project goes far beyond the footprint of previous mining operations and will have unacceptable impacts both onsite and far downstream. The mine is in the advanced stage of permitting and we are part of a concerted effort to stop this high-risk project.

Midas Gold Yellow Pine pit

Kilgore Project

Another Canadian mining company, Excellon Resources, hopes to expand gold exploration operations for the Kilgore Project in the Centennial Mountains of eastern Idaho. Depending on the results of the exploration drilling, the company is considering an open-pit cyanide heap-leach mine operation. Ironically, open-pit cyanide heap leach mining is now banned just a few miles to the north in the state of Montana after a series of accidents poisoned wells and left taxpayers with enormous cleanup costs. Both mine exploration and eventual development could not only affect the ability of wildlife to move through the Centennials but also affect downstream water users. ICL and our friends at GYC successfully challenged the exploration project and the Forest Service is in the process of reanalyzing the impacts.

Atlanta Gold and CuMo Projects

Protecting the Boise River

The Boise River defines the character of Idaho’s capital and provides much of the city’s drinking water. But two Canadian mining companies are proposing operations in the Boise River headwaters that could contaminate our river with arsenic, heavy metals or industrial chemicals.

Cumo Mine

A Canadian mining company named the American CuMo Mining Corporation wants to develop “the world’s largest open-pit accessible” molybdenum mine in the Boise River headwaters near Idaho City. The CuMo Mine (short for copper and molybdenum) threatens the Boise River watershed with billions of tons of potentially toxic mine waste.  ICL successfully appealed exploration drilling over water quality concerns, but the Forest Service is analyzing a new exploration proposal from the mining company.

Atlanta Gold

The Atlanta Gold Project lies in the headwaters of the Middle Fork Boise River. Atlanta Gold had been illegally discharging toxic levels of arsenic into the Boise River headwaters. Based on legal action by ICL, a judge ordered the Atlanta Gold Corporation to clean up this pollution or face additional fines. The project is still in the exploration phase.

Suction Dredge Mining

Recreational suction dredge mining has been of concern to ICL for decades. Suction dredges suck up the sediments from the bottom of rivers and streams in search of small particles of gold, discharging sediment, sand, and gravels that can impair water quality. As a result of ICL's advocacy, state and federal agencies have increased oversight and monitoring of suction dredge mining, especially in habitat for salmon, steelhead, and bull trout, where dredge mining threatens these and other sensitive species.