Skip to main contentSkip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
AP alert top story

Tribes seek more details on water use at Arizona copper mine

A federal agency says an environmental review for a proposed copper mine in Arizona falls short on details about water and the potential impacts of climate change

  • 0

FLAGSTAFF — An environmental review for a proposed copper mine in eastern Arizona did not adequately analyze the potential impacts of climate change and the strain that drought and demand have put on water resources in the region, a U.S. Bureau of Land Management report has found.

The U.S. Forest Service asked the Bureau of Land Management earlier this year to quality check its review for the Resolution Copper mine in Superior, about an hour east of Phoenix. The project is vehemently opposed by Native American tribes who hold the land sacred.

Resolution Copper, a joint venture of global mining giants Rio Tinto and BHP, was set to receive a parcel of land in the Tonto National Forest for mining in March 2021. Then, the Biden administration pulled back an environmental review to further consult with tribes. The move prevented the land exchange from moving forward.

As part of that consultation, the Salt River-Pima Maricopa Indian Community asked the Forest Service to have a third party look at the environmental review, with a focus on water. The Bureau of Land Management provided the report to tribes last month, and credited the Forest Service for its work on the massive document.

But the bureau said the document was hard to follow at times and suffered from insufficient evaluation or unsupported conclusions. It focused its own review on broader topics that it found deficient, under-developed or improperly analyzed, it said.

The environmental review fell short on information on water rights in Arizona, whether the mine would pull from a basin where groundwater is regulated in Arizona and the potential for catastrophic weather events that have become hallmarks of climate change, the Bureau of Land Management said.

Higher average temperatures, less overall precipitation, and an increase in wildfires and more groundwater pumping as surface supplies drop weren't thoroughly addressed, the bureau said.

“Impacts from climate change will have significant ramifications on hydrologic conditions in the project area during both mine operation and the extended recovery period,” the agency’s report read.

Water has long been a concern in a region that’s been mired in drought.

The Bureau of Land Management said the environmental review should do more to help the public understand the permit that allows Resolution Copper to pump groundwater now and into the future — even if mining isn’t green-lit — and how that will affect water sources in the region.

The agency also noted some options for storing mine waste were too quickly dismissed.

Salt River-Pima Maricopa Indian Community President Martin Harvier said he still wants to see an entity independent of the federal government study whether operations at the mine could impact the water sources his community relies on.

“That's the big concern that we have in the whole state of Arizona with the drought conditions that we've been going through for years,” he said. “We're talking about cutbacks on surface water ... our next option is getting water from our aquifers.”

Another tribe, the San Carlos Apache, asked the Forest Service earlier this month to shelve the environmental review and start over.

“The BLM report validates what we have been saying for years,” San Carlos Apache Chairman Terry Rambler said in a statement. “The Resolution mine’s destruction far outweighs its benefits and must not be built.”

Resolution Copper spokesperson Simon Letendre said Tuesday that the Forest Service's environmental review was rigorous and thorough, and the company is committed to working closely with with government agencies, tribes, community groups and others to ensure the project moves forward safely, respectfully and sustainably.

The U.S. Forest Service said some of the topics raised by the Bureau of Land Management's report merit further consideration. The agency hasn't decided whether to re-do or supplement the environmental review, said Forest Service spokeswoman Michelle Burnett.

The release of the environmental review is key to the project. Under federal land, the publication of it starts a 60-day clock for the land to be transferred to Resolution Copper.

Mining wouldn't happen for at least 10 years even if the Forest Service land ultimately is exchanged for private land elsewhere in the forest, a move made possible by a provision slipped into a must-pass U.S. defense bill in 2014. More than two dozen permits still would be needed.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, the mayor of Superior and others have touted the copper mining project for the 3,700 direct and indirect jobs it's expected to bring to the state and $1 billion annually to the economy for 60 years. Resolution Copper said the project also could be vital to the transition to clean energy in the U.S. because copper is used in the production of electric vehicles, and wind and solar systems.

Native American tribes have been at the forefront of legal challenges to the project at Oak Flat, largely over religious freedom. The Apaches call the mountainous area Chi’chil Bildagoteel in their language. It has ancient groves, spiritual deities and traditional plants that tribal members say are essential to their religion and culture.

Resolution Copper said it would not deny Apaches access to Oak Flat if it receives the land as long as it's safe to have people there. Eventually, the mine will swallow the site, using a new process where copper is accessed through deep shafts. Resolution Copper maintains it's safe and environmentally sound.

Companion bills in the House and Senate aim to overturn the land exchange.

While federal agencies often work together on environmental reviews for projects on federal land, environmental law experts say it’s not common for one federal agency to grade another’s work.

“It seems pretty unusual but not a bad idea to have a quality check and a good thing for the tribes to have asked for,” said Kym Meyer, senior staff attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which is not connected to the project.


* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

A bench trial is scheduled to begin Monday for a man accused of sexually attacking and fatally stabbing two young women in separate killings nearly 30 years ago near a metro Phoenix canal system. Bryan Patrick Miller is charged with two counts each of first-degree murder, kidnapping and attempted sexual assault. Prosecutors say the state is seeking the death penalty if Miller is convicted. He waived his right to a jury trial so a Maricopa County Superior Court judge will decide Miller’s fate. Miller is accused of killing 22-year-old Angela Brosso in November 1992 and 17-year-old Melanie Bernas in September 1993.

Authorities say two men are dead after a shooting during a party in Gila Bend and suspects are being sought. Maricopa County Sheriff’s officials say deputies responded to the scene Saturday afternoon and found the bodies of the two victims. The names and ages of the two men haven’t been released yet. Sheriff’s officials say the unidentified suspects had fled the scene before authorities arrived. They say detectives are investigating what led to the fatal shooting. Gila Bend is located about 68 miles southwest of Phoenix.

A University of Arizona professor has been shot and killed on campus by a former student, who has since been arrested. Authorities say Arizona state troopers stopped 46-year-old Murad Dervish roughly 120 miles away from the Tucson campus, just hours after Wednesday's shooting. University of Arizona Police Chief Paula Balafas says the shooting happened shortly after 2 p.m. when someone called 9-1-1 requesting a police escort for a former student. The only victim wounded was later pronounced dead at the hospital. Balafas confirmed he was a hydrology professor. She did not know about the history between the victim and the shooter. Classes were canceled, but they will resume Thursday.

Hundreds of Arizona high school students walked out of their schools into the glaring afternoon sun on Thursday to protest the record number of anti-LGBTQ bills passed by the GOP-controlled state Legislature this year.  “Dear (Gov. Doug) Ducey and Arizona representatives, these bills are killing us,” walkout organizer Dawn Shim told a crowd of students […]

The post Arizona students walkout in protest of new anti-LGBTQ laws appeared first on Arizona Mirror.

An Arizona judge has refused to suspend her order that allowed enforcement of a pre-statehood law making it a crime to provide an abortion. Friday's ruling from Pima County Superior Court Judge Kellie Johnson means the state’s abortion providers will not be able to restart procedures. Abortions were halted on Sept. 23 when Johnson ruled that a 1973 injunction must be lifted so that the Civil War-era law could be enforced. Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich sought the order lifting the injunction. Planned Parenthood argued newer laws take precedence. They asked Johnson to put her ruling on hold to allow an appeal.

Authorities say three men in Phoenix suffered burns, one severely, after they filled plastic bags with gasoline and the bags ignited. Phoenix police said Thursday a man in his 40s remains hospitalized in extremely critical condition. The other two were treated without hospitalization. Investigators determined the man’s car had run out of gas. He asked the other two men to drive to a gas station in another car and bring back gas. The men filled several “heavy-duty plastic grocery bags” with fuel. The bags ignited, starting a fire while they were all still in the car. No arrests have been made but the investigation is ongoing.

Authorities say up to 10 homes were damaged after a tornado touched down in northern Arizona while around Phoenix, dust storms caused downed power lines, fires and cut power to thousands. The National Weather Service says a strong line of thunderstorms hit northwestern Coconino County around 1:30 p.m. Monday. Officials say an EF-1 tornado damaged 8 to 10 homes in the Junipine Estates community located 8 miles (12 kilometers) north of Williams and west of Flagstaff. Sheriff’s officials say no injuries were reported. Dust storms, rain and wind moved through the Phoenix area Monday afternoon, downing power lines that sparked fires and cut power to thousands.

Conservative activist Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, has appeared for a voluntary interview with the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection. The committee has for months sought an interview with Thomas in an effort to know more about her role in trying to help former President Donald Trump overturn his election defeat. She texted with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and contacted lawmakers in Arizona and Wisconsin after the election. She did not answer questions when she arrived on Capitol Hill for the interview or later when she briefly left for a break. But Thomas did tell reporters she was looking forward to answering questions from the members of the committee.

An attorney for the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol told a federal judge in Phoenix on Tuesday that Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward refused to answer the committee’s questions at a deposition. The comment from attorney Eric Columbus came during a Tuesday hearing where Ward’s lawyers urged a federal judge to block the committee from getting her phone records while she appeals. U.S. District Judge Diane Humetewa ruled on Sept. 23 that Ward's records should be released. Ward attorney Laurin Mills cast the phone records fight as one with major implications for democracy, on par if not bigger than the insurrection. The judge is considering the request.

Listen now and subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | RSS Feed | Omny Studio

Listen now and subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | RSS Feed | Omny Studio

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News

Breaking News (FlagLive!)