The need to protect water levels in public lands:
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]
Problems of water depletion
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.
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.
Examples of potential mining drawdown:
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:
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]
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:
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 Seven: Hells Canyon [Oregon] Preservation Council, et al v. United States Forest Service