Report given at Hearing on Hardrock Mining and
Submitted by: Nancy Freeman, Executive Director
I have been studying the water pollution by mining and the water depletion problems in Arizona for over 4 years now. From extensive research including attending committee hearings at the Arizona Legislature, I would suggest that there be a thorough hydrological study of water levels in the National Forests and National Wildlife Refuges in the Southwest, and that consideration be made to protect the groundwater levels from any further depletion.
Mining is one of the industries that use huge amounts of water for their extraction processes. In Arizona, industries, including power plants and mining are exempt from all groundwater pumping laws—even in Active Management Areas. This means that in regions of mining, groundwater tables are going down and there is no recourse.
Problem of depletion in mining areas was highlighted in early 70’s when Farmer’s Cooperative in Green Valley sued the local mining companies for depletion of the Santa Cruz aquifer, which would eventually infringe on their water rights in that aquifer. Further, Farmer’s Cooperative and Tucson Water Co. asserted that water not fit for drinking should not be put back into the aquifer. I remind you that at least in Arizona the so-called Aquifer Protection Permit, is an Aquifer Pollution Permit—allowing industry to pollute up to a certain point. In Green Valley, the aquifer has a ambient sulfate level of 50 mg/ltr., whereas the APP allows polluting up to 250 mg/ltr. And this is a special case. Normally, the allowed level much higher, New Mexico felt lucky to get 650 mg/ltr as a legal level.
Mining is not the only source of drawdown in the Forest Service areas. At the Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge, the riparian area is being threatened by exempt well pumping in nearby Arivaca. The Tonto National Forest riparian areas are being dried up by development near Payson.
Originally, the National Forest system was designated as a watershed to provide a good quantity of water to the residents. In protecting that watershed, the plants and wildlife will also be protected. Therefore, I encourage you to initiate a law to protect the surface and groundwater from further depletion in National Forests, Wildlife Refuges and designated conservation areas.
I have included documentation of drawdown in the Tucson Mining District due to pumping of mining and a law suit in the 1970’s by Farmer’s Cooperative and Tucson Water Company.
I have also included documentation to show how aggressive mining companies are in obtaining water and water rights here in Arizona.
In Search of Subflow: Arizona’s Futile Effort To Separate Groundwater From Surface Water, by Robert Jerome Glennon and Thomas Maddock III
Saguaro National Park, Arizona: Water Resources Scoping Report by David N. Mott