Nevada mine opponents take water battle to appeals court
The battle to block development of a molybdenum mine in Nevada’s rural Diamond Valley is scheduled to resume Tuesday in San Francisco.
That’s where lawyers on both sides of the fight over the proposed Mt. Hope mine near Eureka will make arguments about the project opponents say will have a devastating effect on local water supplies.
“We are having some serious water issues in Diamond Valley right now so adding that mine would just be a huge mistake,” said Carolyn Bailey, whose family has been ranching and farming near the proposed mine site since 1863.
Mines detrimental to public water
Great Basin Resource Watch and the Western Shoshone Defense Project are plaintiffs in the case against the Bureau of Land Management, which permitted the project in 2012, and Eureka Moly, LLC., which is the company seeking to develop the mine.
The case is on appeal after U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jones in Reno denied the plaintiffs’ complaint in 2014.
Much of the case rests on the plaintiffs’ interpretation of a 1926 executive order known as Public Water Reserve 107. The order from President Calvin Coolidge stated, in part, that, “all land within one quarter of a mile of every spring or water be reserved for public use.”
John Hadder of Great Basin Resource Watch said invoking the order in opposition to a mining project is unique and could reverberate throughout the west where people can show mines are detrimental to springs on public land.
“Other mine projects around the west could be affected,” Hadder said.
The problem with the mine, according to plaintiffs, is that the pit and efforts to dewater it could lower the water table for the surrounding valley.
Hydrologist Tom Myers, who has studied similar mines in the Humboldt River Basin, said when mining companies dig massive pits water flows in from surrounding aquifers, which lowers the entire water table.
The companies typically install infrastructure to keep the pits dry while they’re working, a process known as dewatering.
But when they’re done and dewatering stops the water resumes its flow into the pit, lowering the water table that supports springs, rivers, wetlands and ranches.
“Dewatering lowers the water table below the ground surface which causes those springs to no longer have water to discharge and support the things they support,” Myers said.
BLM stands behind decision
A spokesman for the General Moly, a Colorado-based parent to the Eureka LLC, didn’t respond to calls for comment on the case.
Kyle Hendrix, a Battle Mountain-based spokesman for the BLM, said the agency stands behind the decision to permit the mine.
“The BLM Mount Lewis Field Office felt confident in the decision when first issued and still believes it to be the correct course of action,” Hendrix said.
In addition to opposing the mine in federal court over concerns about damage to springs, mine opponents are seeking reforms to state water law they say would hold mining companies more accountable for water use.