DNR vets competing water rights applications in Chuitna coal proposal

The state Department of Natural Resources held a public hearing in Anchorage on Friday to get additional comments on pending applications for water rights to a tributary of the Chuitna River.

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The Chuitna watershed, on the west side of Cook Inlet, has become the focus of a dispute over the use of the water in Middle Creek. The small creek is a salmon stream, and the Chuitna Citizens Coalition has filed for water rights there.

But Pac Rim Coal has plans to use that water in its proposed mining operation in the area, and the company’s water reservation application is pending.

The dispute has been percolating since 2009, when the Citizens Coalition first filed for the water rights, saying the salmon stream must be protected. DNR did not take action on the application. The Coalition sued, and in 2013, a state Superior Court judge ruled that DNR’s refusal to process the application amounted to an unreasonable delay and it violated the coalition’s constitutional right to due process.

Now DNR is under the gun to make a decision on the competing water rights applications.

Friday’s hearing brought together representatives from both conservation and development organizations. DNR’s Brent Goodrum, director of the division of mining, land and water, says the department must consider eight criteria in making the decision, among them economic and environmental factors.

“That’s the crux of the issue here.

DNR must make a decision by October 6.