Polluted Gravel Pit Breached in Flood
Our worst fears were realized in the Feb 28th flood event, the largest gravel pit mine the Basalt Pit had a complete levee failure on a section that had failed in previous floods. The pit is just downstream of Dry Creek and is owned by Syar Industries. Over 30 years of process wash water with extremely high levels of toxic metals as well as Healdsburg’s treated wastewater discharges are now connected to our river that is our drinking water supply. Sediment testing of mining wash water in 2006 showed the mining waste contained Mercury, Iron and Aluminum at 200-800% of safe levels and Phosphorous at almost 500 times more than levels that can trigger toxic algae. Those pollutants are all conservative meaning they are still present and do not degrade over time and pose a threat to the river’s health and our health.
When we filed lawsuits against the County in the 80’s and 90’s to stop the pits one of our biggest reasons was the pits would be captured by the river in floods, sadly our predictions were correct, again. This occurred in the El Nino events in the late 90’s resulting in a Clean Water Act lawsuit by Friends of the Russian River, RRK’s predecessor.
The City of Healdsburg was issued a Cease and Desist Order over a decade ago to stop dumping their treated wastewater in the Basalt Pit and have not ceased this discharge.
As of this date, 3 months after the flood, we’re still waiting for action plans to protect the river this summer from Healdsburg’s wastewater that contains 1-3 mg/L of phosphorous, high enough to contribute to toxic algae blooms. We are concerned as well about the mining waste but that is less of a summer water quality threat since it is less mobile. We’re also very concerned that in six months it’ll be raining again and if we do not take action we will see major erosion of downstream properties.
At this time the County PRMD has convened two meetings with the resource protection agencies and are developing a tentative plan. Syar is standing by ready to take action once permits are issued. Once a tentative plan is developed, PRMD plans to hold a public meeting to collect public comments on their concerns regarding this issue and give you an opportunity to voice your opinion on how the County should respond to this major threat to the River’s health. We’ll keep you posted when the public meetings are scheduled so stay tuned!