Stream Reclamation Approval Process
In Reply Refer To:
3809/3715 (AK930) P
Instruction Memorandum No. 2019-010
To: District Managers and Field Managers
From: State Director
Subject: Stream Reclamation Approval Process
Program Area: Mining Law Administration Program (L1990) – Surface Management
Purpose: The purpose of this Instruction Memorandum (IM) is to outline how BLM Alaska’s field staff will assess and approve stream reclamation in a timely manner and in accordance with approved plans of operations (plans). To make the stream reclamation assessment process efficient and easily repeatable, and without unreasonable financial burden on the mining community, the BLM has established four basic measurements of stream stability and this IM describes how they will be applied to existing and new operations. Clear reclamation criteria established before mining begins may reduce costs of repeated site visits to discuss or evaluate reclamation progress. Furthermore, this IM delineates the reclamation inspection and approval process for both new and existing (previously approved) plans.
This IM applies to stream channels and adjacent riparian areas disturbed by mining operations and is intended to be used in conjunction with the Revegetation for Reclamation Approval Process Instruction Memorandum (IM AK 2019-011), where applicable. This IM replaces IM AK 2017-010.
Policy/Action: This IM identifies what parameters within the reclaimed stream section will be monitored to determine when the stream channel and adjacent riparian area are sufficiently reclaimed to provide continued site stability. This IM is consistent with 43 CFR 3809 Surface Management regulations, which requires that reclamation activities incorporate riparian mitigation measures, provide for rehabilitation of fish habitat, and comply with water quality standards. National policy outlined in handbook H-3809-1 provides further guidance stating that stream reclamation should provide a stable channel form with adequate vegetation to
reduce erosion, dissipate stream energy, and promote the recovery of instream habitats. This IM does not supersede approved land use plans that include specific mining reclamation criteria or objectives. All stream reclamation must result in stream stability; no additional reclamation work is necessary to achieve the rehabilitation of fish habitat.
BLM staff should work with operators to develop reclamation and monitoring plans that incorporate measurable objectives to assess stream stability and the requirements outlined in the 43 CFR 3809 Surface Management regulations. In general, reclaimed streams are stable when they are connected to their floodplains, have an appropriate mix of pools/riffles to dissipate energy, and have sufficient vegetation cover on the floodplain and streambanks to control or minimize erosion.
Detailed measurement methods and photographic examples will be provided to the field in subsequent guidance.
Existing Plans of Operations
For plans approved prior to July 1, 2019, assess reclamation of the reclaimed stream channel in accordance with the approved reclamation plan for that operation. If the approved reclamation plan failed to include specific requirements for the monitoring and approval of stream reclamation, BLM field staff should monitor the reclaimed stream section for two years. If, after two years, all criteria measured at the site are no less than functioning-at risk, and no unnecessary or undue degradation (UUD) is present, offices are directed to approve the reclamation. Otherwise, if any criteria measured at the reclaimed stream section is in the non-functional range, or if UUD is occurring, after consultation with managers and appropriate staff, provide corrective measures to the operator. Modification to the reclamation and monitoring plans may be required to ensure UUD is prevented thereafter.
New Plans of Operation
BLM staff will assess stream reclamation, once the operator has requested inspection of the reclamation, based on four criteria. These four criteria should be evaluated both individually and collectively to determine overall stability and trend after two years. In general, most criteria’s values should fall within the functional range. In some cases, values could fall within the range for functioning-at risk and still be determined as stable. When determining percent riffle, staff should consider the overall percent riffle within the adjacent stream reach and not just within the reclaimed area.
Functioning-At Risk Range
Streambank native vegetation cover
Active streambank erosion, as defined in the Technical Reference 1735-2
40-60% or 70-80%
<40% or >80%
Head cuts or mid-channel bars
Concurrent Stream Reclamation
Concurrent reclamation is required per regulation and is commonly the most cost effective reclamation model for most Alaska placer mines. Plans and notices that implement concurrent stream reclamation as part of their operations allow for continued daily monitoring of reclaimed areas. Completing stream reclamation while mining operations are still active helps ensure maintenance and monitoring of the reclaimed stream is continuous, while minimizing additional cost or time restrictions on the operator. Waiting to complete stream reclamation until after mining is complete may necessitate additional costs to mobilize equipment and facilitate maintenance activities and monitoring. Therefore, BLM staff are encouraged to guide operators to implement concurrent reclamation whenever such reclamation is feasible.
Timeframe: Effective immediately.
Budget Impact: There should be little change from the previous year. It is expected that inspectors, and sometimes interdisciplinary teams, may still need to travel to mine sites that are remote, air-accessible, and require several days’ time. Technical assistance, education, and publication of technical and educational material will continue. For the long-term, BLM Alaska personnel may achieve cost reductions through baseline data gathering during site visits that are years in advance of mining, thus reducing the need for a site visit before each new area is mined.
Background: National solid minerals policy and regulation require the BLM to carefully consider the adequacy of stream reclamation, especially those activities associated with placer mining. BLM Alaska has explored a range of assessment methodologies and processes to determine if stream reclamation is sufficient to meet the requirements. For existing mine plans that include mining and reclamation of streams, the BLM has grandfathered these operations to be assessed under their approved plan.
Manual/Handbook Sections Affected: This IM is in conformance with the 43 CFR 3809 Surface Management Handbook.
Coordination: The BLM Alaska State Office Branches of Energy and Minerals, Solid Minerals (AK932) and Renewable Resources (AK931) coordinated with the Fairbanks and Anchorage District Offices in the development of this policy.