Mercury cleanup could help out Auburn business |

Mercury cleanup could help out Auburn business

Shoring up an Auburn business while repairing the environment is a seemingly lofty venture, but it’s exactly what Nevada Irrigation District officials are pondering.

NID board of directors’ members John Drew and Paul Williams recently discussed a plan involving the federal government and a gravel firm’s dredge to clean Gold Rush-era mercury out of the water district’s Combie Reservoir.

Last month, U.S. Geological Survey spokesman Charlie Alpers said people should not eat more than one fish per week from the reservoir or any body of water in the Yuba and Bear River watersheds because of high mercury levels that could cause nerve damage.

NID Assistant General Manager Tim Crough approached Alpers about the situation at the district’s reservoir near Lake of the Pines on the Nevada and Placer county lines. Since then, Crough said, the idea to dredge the lake and lift the mercury for removal has been discussed in meetings with Alpers and former NID General Manager Jim Chatigny, representing Chevreaux Aggregates of Auburn,

The removal of rock and sand would increase the lake’s water storage level for NID and revive Chevreaux’s suspended sand and gravel operation at the reservoir. Chevreaux has been doing that for years under a lease with NID.

Chevreaux attorney John Dunlap said the dredge was shut down because it was causing murky water levels not allowed by new state standards.

“Mercury is a problem for eternity,” Crough said. “(The dredging) may be a wild and ambitious idea, but it may go somewhere.”

The Combie project would be NID’s under a larger regional group brought together to attract state grant money to protect the Yuba, Bear River, American and Consumnes River watersheds. The Proposition 50 funds are slated for watershed conservation and are also being targeted by the new Sierra Conservancy.

NID would join with the El Dorado Irrigation District, the Placer County Water District and the Sierra Nevada Alliance to get the funds. Almost $400 million is available over two years, and the conservancy is not far enough along to get grants from this year.

“It’s an opportunity for NID to show the way to extract mercury in our waterways,” Drew said.

Williams said the project could be a boon for Chevreaux, which “is just about done as a company.”

Chevreaux attorney Dunlap confirmed the company has been approached by two parties about purchase but said nothing is imminent. He also said, “There is no basis for Mr. Williams’ statement that the business is in trouble.”

Mercury levels dangerous

Combie Reservoir tested high for mercury in a 1999 study done by a trio of U.S. Geological Survey scientists. One largemouth bass tested at 1.2 parts per million, exceeding the EPA and FDA safety level of 1 part per million. Other fish approached the level at 0.99, 0.96 and 0.95. The average level of the nine largemouth bass was 0.9. Two bluegill and two rainbow trout tested a slight 0.06 to 0.20.

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