Reno, Nevada. A coalition of citizens’ conservation and public accountability groups, including, Great Basin Resource Watch (GBRW), Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), Sierra Club Toiyabe Chapter (SC), Wild Horse Education (WHE), Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN), and affected water rights holders (collectively Protestants), filed a legal formal protest of 31 water rights applications with the Nevada Division of Water Resources.
Granting these applications would allow Nevada Gold Mines (NGM) to withdraw up to 43,000 gallons per minute of water from Goshute Valley on the eastern side of the North Pequop Mountains. The Long Canyon Mine is located approximately 27 miles east of Wells, Nevada, and 32 miles west of West Wendover, Nevada.
The proposed expansion and dewatering of the mine would pump on average 45,000 acre-feet per year (over half the annual water use by the Truckee Meadows Water Authority) for 20 or more years removing over 300 billion gallons of water from the deep aquifer.
“It is time for Nevada to take a hard look at the consequences of allowing mining companies to engage in these massive dewatering projects that deplete regional groundwater for potentially hundreds of years. Simple water replacement of springs is not environmentally sound and does not address the need to protect spring sources,” said John Hadder, Director of GBRW.
This aggressive pumping campaign is designed to lower the water table around the mine site by at least 1000 feet, and will quickly dry up the Johnson Springs Wetland Complex (JSWC), comprising 88 individual springs with combined total long-term average flow of 1,715 gallons per minute (2,770 acre-feet per year).
This will cause significant harm to hundreds of species of wildlife, including sage grouse, endangered Relict Dace and numerous game species, such as mule deer, pronghorn and elk. The pumping also will draw water from four other nearby basins including Independence Valley, home to the endangered Independence Valley Speckled Dace and the previously thought extinct and highly endangered Independence Valley Tui Chub.
Laura Leigh, Director of WHE, said, “The area of this proposed ‘Phase II’ expansion has already had to address years of drought and water emergencies. The breadth and depth of this project would violate any notion of sustained multiple use. One more gold mine with a stranglehold that will impact the rights and needs of every other interest for hundreds of years. It is simply a slap in the face.”
The Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation raised significant concerns when the Long Canyon Mine was first proposed almost 10 years ago, and this expansion will further degrade cultural and spiritual resources in the area. The region surrounding the mine has a history of continued occupation in the form of camp and village sites, hunting and fishing grounds, ceremonial areas and sacred sites, food gathering areas, and places important for passing on traditional knowledge. Protection of the Native American cultural values and ongoing spiritual practices that depend on these springs and wetlands requires protection of the springs’ and wetlands’ water sources as well.
Ian Bigley, Mining Justice Organizer for PLAN said, “This mine would devastate water systems that all life depends on for generations in exchange for most of the benefits going to a foreign corporation on a material that isn’t essential.”
The mine pumping also would conflict impermissibly with the existing water rights and domestic wells of people in the affected basins.
NGM proposes to pump water back to the location of the JSWC to mitigate the severe drawdown of the groundwater table and elimination of natural springflow. However, NGM’s scheme fails to take into consideration critical water quality issues relating to the water that would be artificially pumped into the JSWC, including water chemistry, water temperature, turbidity, and other aspects of the water flow. In addition, the mitigation would require active management for at least 150 years and probably longer, which cannot be guaranteed by NGM.
Patrick Donnelly, State Director for the CBD said, “It is unreasonable to propose a water replacement scheme that must be maintained for hundreds of years. Allowing this massive mine pumping to go forward would set a dangerous precedent.”
In addition, there exists considerable uncertainty in the groundwater modeling, and the Protestants assert that additional analysis is needed to fully understand the extent of impacts from the proposed groundwater pumping. Because NGM’s proposed mine dewatering project would severely harm the public interest, the Protestants argue that the “Applications are premature as would be an approval of any of these Applications by the State Engineer.”
Final word from Leigh for wild horse advocates: “Wild horses are explicitly tied legally to the land they stand; wild because of the wild things they share their homes with, and the human history they have influenced, area by area. There are far too many of these projects running full steam on, and near, the measly 12% of public lands public lands our wild ones occupy. What is proposed at Long Canyon? the precedent is far too dangerous not to take a strong stand and simply say ‘no.’ The diversity of the interests engaged to stop this permit is an indication of the danger it represents. Our wild places are under assault. If we can not stop these absolutely unacceptable proposals there will be no wild for wild horses.”
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