On Friday, January 21, 2022, Patagonia Area Resource Alliance (PARA) concluded a two-week evidentiary hearing in Phoenix. The issue at hand is a government permit that South32 needs to begin pumping ten Olympic-sized swimming pools’ worth of water each day. The water would come from beneath the Patagonia Mountains, where the company proposes to extract mineral resources.
South32 contended that it met all the legal requirements to obtain the permit. PARA contested that both the mining company and the state regulators at the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) failed to consider all the necessary environmental consequences to discharging such a large volume of groundwater just nine miles upstream from 900 Patagonia residents.
PARA elicited testimony from the mining company’s scientists throughout the hearing. PARA strongly suggested that South32 failed to identify the actual chemical content of the groundwater they seek to discharge into our local stream, that South32 did not design the proposed water treatment plant to industry standards, and that the company also failed to design its tailings facility to withstand a major rainstorm. PARA believes that the evidence pointed toward a similar lack of scientific judgment from the ADEQ regulators – regulators who are supposed to ensure the company implements industry best practices.
The hearing transcript will be ready in early February. The lawyers then have three weeks to submit written closing arguments to the Hearing Judge. After that, he will take about two months to review and provide his recommendation to the Water Quality Appeals Board.
ADEQ is not funded by state funds. Instead, it is funded by a federal grant for water quality oversight and fees generated from its “customers,” such as mining companies.
The standards that ADEQ uses in evaluating a mine company proposal is called a Best Available Demonstrated Control Technology. These standards were written by the mining industry.