Mine opposition fights Rosemont’s CAP recharge proposalby Hugh Holub on Jul. 16, 2011, under environment water and energy, politics
The water table beneath Green Valley and Sahuarita is dropping.
All hydrology studies done in the area show the water table will continue to drop for the foreseeable future because there is a lot of groundwater pumping going on between the mines, FICO and area water utilities and golf courses that is not being replenished with Central Arizona Project (CAP) water.
Only new urban development is required to replenish the groundwater being pumped. Two area water utilities…Community Water Company and the Green Valley Domestic Water Improvement District have contracts to buy Central Arizona Project (CAP) water, but they cannot directly use CAP water because there is no CAP Terminal Storage facility to firm up local water deliveries. The only option for the local CAP contract water companies is to recharge their CAP water to offset their groundwater pumping.
FICO’s water company Farmers Water, the Sahuarita Water Company that serves Rancho Sahuarita and others in the area serving new development do not have CAP contracts.
New development in Rancho Sahuarita, Quail Creek and other areas pay a fee or assessment to the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District (CAGRD) which goes out and buys CAP water and recharges it. Unfortunately for the water table in Green Valley, the CAGRD recharge occurs in Marana which has a rising groundwater table. There is no state mandate CAGRD recharges in the area where groundwater is mined.
FICO, Freeport, Asarco and Rosemont are under no state legal mandate to replenish the groundwater they pump. Just between FICO, Freeport and Asarco, over 60,000 acre feet of groundwater can be pumped annually without any recharge requirement. Unless all that pumping is subjected to a recharge obligation, the depth of groundwater in the area will keep dropping as it has for decades due to this exempt pumping.
Rosemont will add another 5,000 to 6,000 acre feet to the demand on the aquifer. Some claim Rosemont’s proposed pumping is the problem in the area. In fact, it is only about 10% of the problem.
Even though the Tucson Active Management Area (TAMA) administered by the Arizona Department of Water Resources is mandated by law to achieve “safe yield” by 2025…meaning no more groundwater is mined than is artificially or naturally recharged in the TAMA…studies show we will fail in this goal.
Under ADWR and TAMA rules, the “safe yield” balance is more mathematical than related to actual water table levels. Thus it is OK to mine groundwater in the Green Valley area resulting in the local water table to keep dropping and recharge CAP water in Marana so the water table there can rise.
There is no legal mandate in the TAMA to prevent local aquifers from experiencing long term declines as there is in the Santa Cruz Active Management area to the south of Green Valley.
This may be good for Marana, but it means big problems in the future for Sahuarita and Green Valley.
One obvious solution is to expand CAP recharge capacity in Sahuarita and Green Valley.
The existing Pima Mine Road recharge project does not have the capacity to allow replenishment of all the groundwater pumping that is allowed in the area. Plus the Pima Mine Road recharge project is down-gradient from the wells serving the area, so recharge at that site does not protect the water table further south under GVDWID’s, CWC’s and Quail Creek’s water service areas.
There are two competing proposals to expand CAP recharge capacity in the area…one led by Community Water Company (CWC) and one led by FICO.
There is a significant difference between the two proposals. Under the CWC plan the Rosemont copper mine would be able to recharge an equal amount of CAP water for what they will pump in the Sahuarita Heights area. Under the FICO recharge proposal Rosemont would not be allowed to recharge CAP water in its project.
Both recharge projects are currently being stymied by a bottleneck in the CAP water line that runs from the end of the CAP line just west of I-19 and Pima Mine Road over to the Pima Mine Road recharge site. Any new CAP recharge project needs to connect to this line and eliminate the bottleneck.
The existing CAP line can’t handle another 30,000 acre feet of CAP water delivery needed to offset the groundwater pumping by Rancho Sahuarita, FICO’s farm operation and future land development, area water companies, Freeport’s mine, and Rosemont. The bottleneck will have to be removed.
The City of Tucson, which controls this CAP line and a large share of the Pima Mine Road recharge project has taken the position that no “third party” can access the line or increase its capacity…especially Rosemont. I suspect Tucson would allow FICO to connect as long as Rosemont had no access.
Thus we have the City of Tucson, which claims to be a leader in good regional water management, working behind the scenes to block Rosemont from being able to recharge CAP water.
There is something really fishy going on in Green Valley.
FICO, which is one of the largest pumpers of mined groundwater complains about Rosemont’s ADWR approved groundwater use. This is a classic case of the “pot calling the kettle black”.
One would think that if FICO was so concerned about the potential impacts of Rosemont’s groundwater pumping, they would be doing everything they could to get Rosemont into a CAP recharge project. Instead FICO is doing just the opposite.
I am speculating that FICO’s theory is that if Rosemont is somehow denied the ability to recharge CAP water, that will somehow convince the federal government to deny Rosemont permission to use Coronado National Forest land for the proposed mine. Support for this speculation comes from FICO’s attempts to link the mine project to the environmental assessment of CWC’s proposed CAP recharge project. FICO failed in that attempt.
FICO wanted the environmental evaluation of the CWC CAP recharge project to include everything related to the proposed mine. The feds said there wasn’t any link and that the CAP recharge effort stood alone as being positive for the environment, regardless of any benefit Rosemont might get.
CWC’s recharge effort is for the benefit of everyone in Green Valley. It is not, as some claim, a “Rosemont project”. CWC was just smart enough to get some financial backing for their recharge project from another outfit that could also benefit.
Unfortunately for FICO’s theory, the federal government has no jurisdiction over groundwater rights and uses in Arizona. Arizona is fairly defensive of its state’s rights, and control of water rights is one of those state rights that is absolutely beyond federal control.
Rosemont already has its ADWR state permit to pump groundwater for use in its mining project. FICO actually fought the permit for Rosemont with ADWR and lost.
State law does not require Rosemont to do anything to mitigate its planned groundwater pumping…just as state law does not mandate FICO or Freeport from mitigating the impacts of their substantially greater amounts of groundwater pumping.
The water supply for the mine is a done deal.
On one hand FICO complains about Rosemont’s proposed groundwater pumping and obviously would like the federal government to condition approval of the mine on Rosemont being mandated to replenish its groundwater pumping, and then FICO turns right around and proposes a CAP recharge project that excludes Rosemont’s ability to participate.
The people of Sahuarita and Green Valley need to recognize that getting the maximum amount of CAP recharge going in the area is absolutely in everyone’s best interest to reduce the decline in the aquifer beneath the area.
There can be no exceptions to recharging CAP water.
Everyone pumping groundwater needs to be part of the solution and replenish their pumping with CAP water recharge under Green Valley and Sahuarita.
Attempts to use the CAP recharge issue as a weapon against Rosemont are contrary to the public interest of everyone in the upper Santa Cruz Valley.
FICO should be challenged for trying to hold CAP recharge hostage to opposition to Rosemont.
The City of Tucson in working with FICO should also be challenged in its attempt at blocking maximum sustainability solutions for Green Valley. Tucson is blocking sound water management in Green Valley and Sahuarita for political purposes aligning itself with opponents of the mine.
I strongly encourage everyone to merge their efforts and come up with one CAP recharge project which will allow all groundwater users to replenish what they pump…FICO, Rosemont, Freeport, Sahuarita, Community Water, and everyone else.
Take the money Rosemont is willing to spend in support of the CAP recharge project and keep CAP recharge project development out of the mine permitting fight. If Rosemont doesn’t get their federal permit…let them sell whatever CAP recharge capacity they have to someone else who can use it.