A broad consortium of industry groups, tribal organizations, and NGOs in Alaska recognized an imminent threat to the world’s most productive wild salmon fishery from the Pebble Mine, a proposed open pit copper mine in the headwaters of Bristol Bay. One of the challenges these groups faced was that it was difficult to visualize the potential impacts of the mine in a way that would adequately convey risks to the public, to state and federal regulators, and to the Alaska congressional delegation in Washington.
With funding from the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, we partnered with The Nature Conservancy to develop a hydraulic model of a mine tailings dam failure in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Using physical parameters produced by the mine proponent, we built a model using industry-standard software to illustrate impacts from a range of potential failure scenarios. These model outputs helped communicate the risks that large-scale mineral development could pose in this watershed.
We developed public outreach materials using our model results and presented briefings to US and Alaska state representatives, US senators, and regulatory agencies in Washington and Juneau to communicate the potential risks of development in this ecosystem.