Several current applications from South32 Mining may affect our local watershed for years to come. Applications for permission to discharge water from the mines into Harshaw Creek at a rate of millions of gallons per day for several years have caused the Patagonia Area Resource Alliance (PARA) to ask these questions:
•Where will these large amounts of groundwater go once brought to the surface?
•What is the additional flood risk to the town of Patagonia and others in the Harshaw and Sonoita Creek floodways?
•How will this affect the ecosystem?
•What will be the effects to our water quantity and quality?
PARA is working with experts to evaluate the permit applications. The initial review raised significant concerns which PARA continues to investigate.
As a result of the concerns raised by scientists, PARA has convinced ADEQ to extend the comment period for these applications. In addition, PARA requested that the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) exercise its authority to review the draft permits. AZ Congressman Raul Grijalva, Chairperson of the House Natural Re-sources Committee, has written the EPA supporting PARA’s request.
South32 intends to create an exploratory shaft on its patented, private claims to a depth of 1,400 feet to reach the mineral deposit; that is why it needs to “dewater.” The water quality changes when the groundwater is pumped through the geologic rock that is in the mountains and exposed to air, which creates the need to then process the water through a treatment plant to meet state water quality standards.
The permit application says that South32 plans to discharge water into the Harshaw Creek watershed at “flow rates up to 4,500 gallons per minute, or about 6.48 million gallons per day.” This will equal up to 2.37 billion gallons discharged per year. According to the application, the highest rates of pumping and discharge would last for the “first years of exploration activities” before beginning to decline over time. But the amount of water used during mine production has not yet been made public.
Barksdale Resources, another locally active mining company, is making application to ADEQ as it prepares to apply to the Forest Service to drill 30 exploratory holes on the area known as the Sunnyside Project. This would take place in Humboldt Canyon, where the access is essentially through a wash. The company seeks permission to fill the access with “3-inch to 18-inch stone riprap, or excavation and redistribution of existing streamed materials to build up, level, and even out the roadbed surface.” PARA’s experts are reviewing this application.
There are a lot of minerals located in the Patagonia Mountains. The minerals that were easy to access were already removed during the 100-year mining history that ended in the early 1960s. During that entire 100-year history, a total of 250,000 tons of ore was removed. The former owner of the Hermosa Project announced plans to remove that 100-year total every 25 days; the current owner has not yet released its production plans. 21st century industrialized mining isn’t anything like the old days.
With the realities of drought, climate crises, and species extinction, it is important to protect the water’s quantity and quality in this watershed for all life forms.The Patagonia Mountains are part of the Madrean Pine Oak Woodlands, a global biodiversity hotspot recognized as one of the top five places in the world most in need of protection for species survival.
It is important that we all accept the responsibility to inform ourselves about all actions which will have an impact on the quantity and/or quality of water. Listen to all perspectives – those who want to use the water for business purposes and those who want to protect the water for future generations. The permitting agencies work with the mining companies for many months, sometimes years, discussing the plans. We, the People, typically get a 30-day period to comment. Please consider submitting comments to ADEQ regarding these proposals Go to www.patagoniaalliance.org for information.