U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords

Submitted by:
Nancy Freeman, Executive Director
Groundwater Awareness League, Inc.
P. O. Box 934
Green Valley , AZ 85622
March 24, 2007

The need to protect water levels in public lands:
National Parks, Forests, Wildlife Refuges
and BLM Conservation Areas

Water is essential to life in the forest. Animals, critters, fish and birds have to have visible, surface water available to sustain their lives. Plants, trees and grasses that provide food and shelter for the wildlife need water at root level to sustain themselves. Most of our endangered species have been pushed to these areas and are dependent on public lands for habitat.

The laws of many states, particularly in the dry West, do not provide adequate protection from depletion of water tables, ponds, streams and riparian areas in the national parks, national forests, wildlife refuges and BLM designated conservation areas. Arizona may be the worst-case scenario, but, according to a USGS report, groundwater depletion issues do exist across the U.S. [See Attachment One]

Will there arrive a time that we will have to sacrifice the forest and its wildlife so people can have water? This is not a valid question because the forest provides the watershed for people in towns and cities. Already the watersheds have shrunk in size and ability to recharge to aquifers because water levels have receded, ground has compacted, and trees, plants, foliage and grasses, which help slow and hold the water, have diminished.

Problems of water depletion
1) In Arizona, water users can pump down adjacent wells, rivers, ponds, whether public or private, with no regulation whatsoever. (This is also true in other states, including California and Texas.)

2) In Arizona, mining and other industry is exempt from all water regulations; therefore, they can pump in a national forest or near a national park or conservation area with no hydrological considerations.

The Federal Government should

1) Protect the water, both surface and groundwater, in the national parks, national forests, wildlife refuges and BLM designated conservation areas.

2) Maintain the public lands as a watershed for cities and towns. The first purpose of the national forests was designated to serve as watershed for the populace. That’s the reason there a preponderance of national forests in the West U.S. in comparison to the East U.S.

3) Reestablish the doctrine of Federal right to water in public lands, which was established in 1908 by Winters v. United States. [See Attachment Two] However, with time special interests have gnawed away at this relevant ruling.
A case in 1999 in Arizona regarding water on BLM reservation land reasserted the Federal rights are still in tact. The presiding judge wrote, “The doctrine applies not only to Indian reservations, but to other federal enclaves, such as national parks, forests, monuments, military bases, and wildlife preserves.” [See Attachment Three]

4) Mandate a hydrological water study be submitted to the Forest Service or other authority to show that any proposed open-pit or tunnel mine or new housing development will not drain surface water or lower water tables in any national park, national forest, wildlife refuge or BLM conservation area.

Examples of potential mining drawdown:
In a current situation in Pima County, a Canadian company proposes to mine in the Coronado National Forest. They can pump all the water they want with a rubber-stamped permit, with no hydrological study at all. It is certain that the pumping will dewater the forest region and cause devastation to any flora and fauna in that area.

Near Superior in Pinal County, a British mining company wants to mine in Oak Flats recreation area in the Tonto National Forest. The company proposes a tunnel mine to get down to the ore at 7,000 feet. The tunnels will have to be dewatered—down to 7,000 feet. This pumping for dewatering is not a beneficial use of water and will have a devastating effect on the entire landscape. Not only will the pumping dewater the forest, it is sure to have a critical impact on lowing the public water supply in nearby Superior where the water company is pumping water at depths of 800 to 1,000 feet.

The gold mining region in northern Nevada, although on BLM land, not forest service land, shows what mining can do to the regional water table and streams. It is predicted that it will take years for the area to recover. [See Attachment Four] Some 150 more reports have been written on water depletion in this area.

Examples of drawdown due to development:
There is no water regulation in rural Arizona, and there are no guidelines to help rural governing bodies to regulate their water. An example is Payson in Gila County, which is surrounded by national forests: Tonto, Coconino and Sitgreaves. The water supply settles in small irregular aquifers in bedrock, not in big alluvial basins as are present in Tucson and Phoenix.

Continual lowering of water levels has dried up riparian vegetation in Mayfield Canyon northeast of Payson due to unregulated pumping by unregulated new developments. Concerned citizens took it upon themselves to mandate “safe yield”―water pumped out equals water put in. There would be no new development where there was no water supply to replenish the amount pumped out. Further, they mandated no more new turf in the region.

In another scenario within Pima County (within an Active Management Area), the town of Arivaca abuts the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge and Cienega. There are uncounted exempt wells (in Arizona, an exempt well can pump 35 gal. per minute; in Colorado, 15 gal/min.) in the area, which are threatening to drawdown the riparian area. The greatest concern is that one of the ranchers in the area will sell out to a developer. According to Arizona water law, the state will give a developer an assured water supply certificate—because the criteria is that pumping is allowed down to 1,000 feet even though it will drawdown everyone’s well and drain the refuge. Water levels have to be maintained above surface levels to sustain the refuge. Arizona Water Law does not take this reality into account at all.

The two-sections of the Saguaro National Park in Pima County have been suffering from insufficient amounts of water for some time as monitored in a report by the National Park Service in 1997. Development has surrounded the parks and is drawing down the water levels. Further, the disappearance of the Santa Cruz River due to groundwater pumping by Tucson Water Company is an important demonstration of loss of water and habitat in Pima County.

The Park Service has compiled a long list of parks they have studied because of signs of water depletion. [See Attachment Five]

Problems of Water Pollution

Polluted water is water depleted from the available water supply. While water depletion problems can be measured and predicted somewhat, forecasting water pollution problems has lagged behind the actual reality. The release of an Earthworks report on the inadequacy of the Environmental Impact Statements required by the Forest Service, plus reams of documentation by Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Geological Survey, makes the problem so clear, it can no longer be ignored. [See Attachment Six]

With mining operations, the tailings impoundments, open ponds of processing solutions (high in cyanide or sulfuric acid and/or other heavy metals) and toxic pit lakes use large amounts of water―water which the “beneficial use” formula is questionable. Clearly, there is no beneficial use to the wildlife that inhabits the areas. Further, catastrophic events occur regularly, including on national forest land, for example, in the Prescott and Tonto National Forests. In 1992, Bagdad, AZ mining operations were sited for fish kill from impoundment seepage. In 1997 mining waste spilled into Pinto Creek from an impoundment. In 2006, in the U.S District Court of Oregon, it was ruled:

For the reasons set forth above, plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment (# 35) is granted as to the claims under the Clean Water Act, the Organic Act, and the National Forest Management Act. Defendant's motion for summary judgment (# 50) is granted as to the claims under the National Environmental Policy Act. The Forest Service is enjoined from allowing mining or mineral operations in the North Fork Burnt River pursuant to the NFBR Record of Decision and Final Environmental Impact Statement issued in April 2004 for any action that this court has found violates the CWA, the Organic Act, NFMA and the implementing laws and regulations of those acts. [Attachment Seven]

It has been estimated that some 9,500 birds have died in tailings impoundments, which contain cyanide as a processing agent. Phelps Dodge was fined in both Morenci, Arizona [See Attachment Eight] and Tyrone, New Mexico for some 200 bird deaths caused by impoundments using various other chemicals as processing agents.

Most citizens find it a disgrace to have impoundments with contaminated water in national forests, which were meant for watersheds for humans and habitat for wildlife.


Attachment One: Ground-water Depletion across the Nation

Attachment Two: BLM Report: Federal Reserved Water Rights

Attachment Three: In Re the General Adjudication of All Rights to Use Water in the Gila River System
           and Source

Attachment Four: Mine Dewatering in the Humboldt River Basin of Northern Nevada

Attachment Five: National Park Service Water Studies:

Saguaro National Park Water Resources Scoping Report
Completed Water Resources Management Plans
Completed Water Resources Scoping Reports

Attachment Six: Problems of pollution with mining :

Environmental Protection Agency: Mine Waste Technology List
USGS: Some Related Mine-Waste/Environmental Links

Attachment Seven: Hells Canyon [Oregon] Preservation Council, et al v. United States Service

Attachment Eight: Phelps Dodge Morenci, Inc. Pleads Guilty to Violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act

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