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Jonathan Keehn: The Siskon Mine well disaster - quick read

Reopening this local mine ruined wells over two square miles in San Juan Ridge. Months of flooding scoured a creek down to bedrock - killing fish, frogs, and benthic macroinvertebrates.

This opinion piece was originally published in The Union.


A short story: In the early 1990s, a junior mining company from Canada named Siskon Gold wanted to reopen an abandoned gold mine near North Columbia in Nevada County.

Siskon got investors to pay for the most expert hydrogeologists and the best environmental consultants. After several years a complicated draft environmental impact report was produced.

Eventually, with many revisions and mitigations, the draft was tweaked into a final report. The county supervisors finally deemed it complete, and granted Siskon a permit to reopen the abandoned mine.

Two years later (Labor Day weekend, 1995) the unthinkable happened: The miners hit an unmapped bedrock fault, drained an aquifer, and ruined 12 water wells over two square miles (including the well for Grizzley Hill School). If you put your ear to the well casing, you could hear the sound of water being sucked out of your well. The resulting flood (a million gallons a day for many months) scoured Spring Creek down to bedrock, killing fish, frogs, and benthic macroinvertebrates.

Siskon paid to have all 12 wells drilled to a deeper aquifer, requiring larger pumps. The water coming out of these wells is still contaminated with manganese and iron. To this day the Grizzly Hill School must maintain an expensive filtering system to bring the water to safe drinking standards. Siskon went out of business and left town by 1998.

One hardly needs to mention that the parallels of this story to the current situation with Rise Gold are clear and ominous.

Jonathan Keehn lives in Grass Valley.


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