Legacy Mine Lands Pollute Scotchman Creek and the South Yuba River

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Sediment-choked waters of Scotchman Creek turn South Yuba River a creamed coffee color during major storm events.

The normally clear green waters of the South Yuba run opaque yellow after meeting sediment-laden waters of Scotchman Creek, a tributary entering the South Yuba River just upstream of the town of Washington.  In partnership with citizen volunteers and the Sierra Fund, SYRCL is attempting to remedy a primary source of pollution to the Wild and Scenic South Yuba River.

Rorie Gotham is a Washington resident who has watched Scotchman Creek run yellow during virtually every major rain event for the last eleven years.  She has been a long-time member of the River Monitoring Program, SYRCL’s 2010 Volunteer of the Year, and leading steward of the Scotchman Creek Watershed. With unending dedication and enthusiasm, and some exhausting watershed exploration, Rorie has discovered that these heavy sediment loads are coming from one historic mine named Omega Diggins. The steep barren slopes left behind from hydraulic mining rapidly erode under rainfall, sending heavy loads of clay sediment down a tributary of Scotchman Creek and eventually to the Wild and Scenic South Yuba River.

Visible pollution from Scotchman Creek into the South Yuba River has been dubbed a disgrace by Rorie and neighbors.  Not only is the yellow discharge an eyesore, but the pollution is detrimental to water quality and aquatic life.  Suspended sediments reduce the amount of oxygen in water, increase water temperatures, limit oxygen uptake by fish and amphibians, smother the eggs of fish and aquatic insects, and clog reservoirs.

SYRCL is attempting to address this issue head on.  In partnership with the Sierra Fund, SYRCL recently submitted a proposal to the California Department of Water Resources as part of the Consumnes American Bear Yuba Watershed (CABY) Integrated Regional Water Management Plan.  If awarded, SYRCL and the Sierra Fund will quantify the storm-related sediment loads in the Scotchman Creek watershed, test for levels of mercury contamination, and develop remediation plans.

Collaborative efforts among private landowners and agencies will be required to fix problems at  the largely abandoned Omega Diggins area.  Tahoe National Forest’s remediation efforts at the nearby Alpha Diggins in 2008 show that such mine lands can be successfully treated.  SYRCL honors Rorie and fellow Scotchman Creek landowners who insist that their local watershed be remedied of polluting mine lands, and once again support a clean and green South Yuba River.

Rorie Gotham, SYRCL River Monitor and Scotchman Creek Steward, and her dog Eddie standing next to Scotchman Creek, SYRCL River Monitoring Site #25.
The historic hydraulic mining site of Omega Diggins remains abandoned and untreated, contributing a heavy sediment load to Scotchman Creek with every significant rain event.
Scotchman Creek Falls.
The South Yuba River upstream of Scotchman Creek runs clean and green.
The Wild and Scenic South Yuba River, downstream of Scotchman Creek. Image was taken during a recent storm event.
The South Yuba River changes color with legacy mine pollution from Scotchman Creek.
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One Comment

  1. Ray Binner says:

    We need to clean this up ASAP…

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