Wilk amends bill to stop mine on sensitive riverbank

Abandoned equipment stands on the site of the Cemex site in Canyon Country. Dan Watson/The Signal

State Senator Scott Wilk who introduced a bill to keep Cemex out of the Santa Clarita Valley is expected to add a lot more bite to the bill Tuesday when he proposes no water permits be granted if it means water is taken from the home of the protected unarmored threespine stickleback.

Wilk is expected to amend Senate Bill 146 – which he introduced two months ago – when he appears before the Senate Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday.

“The fish is in same habitat as the mine so clearly there’s going to be a problem,” Wilk told The Signal Thursday.

“We’re doing Cemex a favor,” he said. “Killing the mine before they discover they’re not allowed to draw water there.”

The amended bill would direct the State Water Resources Board to deny any future water allocation permit applications that propose drawing water from the habitat of the state-protected unarmored threespine stickleback.

It means any business asking state water officials for permission to take water from any area identified as the protected fish’s habitat would be denied.

In a nutshell, they couldn’t draw water where the unarmored threespine stickleback lives.

In the case of Cemex, it’s estimated the Mexican-based mining giant would draw about 105 million gallons of water annually from the Santa Clara River if it begins mining Soledad Canyon.

His bill would prevent that from happening.

Threespine stickleback

With Wilk’s amended bill, Cemex would be denied permission to draw even a drop of water where the endangered fish lives.

And, the unarmored threespine stickleback lives in only a couple of places in the world – one of them being a mile downstream from the Cemex site.

In crafting the bill, Wilk said he took a page from The Signal – literally – pointing to a story published in December 2012 reporting the endangered fish lives a mile downstream from the mine.

“The Signal did a public service,” he said Thursday. “Why didn’t anybody do this sooner?”

Wilk said he anticipates some push-back from Cemex at Tuesday’s committee meeting.

“This is a multi-national company with high-powered lobbyists,” he said. “They’re talking to everybody,

“I’m sure they’re going to be there and that they’re going to oppose it,” he said.

Initial bill

Wilk’s initial bill had bi-partisan support in the state Legislature. Wilk is a Republican representing parts of Santa Clarita, and Sen. Henry Stern, a Democrat who also represents the city, is a co-sponsor of the bill.

The bill, in its original form, would require that the Water Resources Control Board re-open any cases that have been pending for at least 25 years – as has the Cemex matter — and reconsider water-rights issues.

Wilk said Thursday that the original bill, intended to address the local mining issue, was getting a lot of opposition from operators of long-standing projects already in the works that would be affected.

“It had a lot of opposition,” he said. “So, we started asking ‘Is there anything else we can do?’”

That’s when Wilk began looking seriously at the unarmored threespine stickleback.

The Santa Clara River, particularly in the area near Soledad Canyon just outside the City of Santa Clarita, has been identified in a number of studies involving several state, federal, and private entities as having significant ecological natural resources, Wilk pointed out Thursday.

“Additionally, this stretch of river serves as a habitat for threatened, endangered and protected wildlife species. It also constitutes the last natural-flowing river in Southern California,” he said.

“Among the most significant and most at risk species present in the area is the unarmored threespine stickleback, a fish on the California Fully Protected Species List and the federal Endangered Species List.

“We have been entrenched in a decades long battle,” Wilk said. “To protect this very segment of the Santa Clara River against a massive proposed mining project that would bring one of the nation’s largest aggregate mines to this pristine natural canyon and deplete water flow from the river where fish, waterfowl and other wildlife, including the unarmored threespine stickleback, depend on the flow for survival.”

In short, Wilk said: “The inimitable habitat created by the Santa Clara River in Soledad Canyon is put at great risk by this proposed mine.”

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