Here we go again—Rosemont Mine, chapter ad infinitum.
This time, the Tucson City Council is going to discuss what standards it will set to determine which if any party gets to connect a new Central Arizona Project pipeline toward Green Valley to an existing CAP pipeline that’s tied to the Pima Mine Road Recharge Project. It’s owned by the city and the three-county agency that runs CAP – the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (actually, the CAP and district’s names are used interchangeably).
The two pipeline applicants are Community Water Co. of Green Valley and Farmers Investment Co. of Sahuarita, the pecan growers. Both have been pushing CAP pipeline proposals since 2007 or 2008. Recently, both companies or their representatives have been heavily lobbying council members to accept their proposals.
The FICO proposal is relatively uncontroversial. Its pipeline would allow the pecan growers and others with access to CAP water to bring it directly to the groves to replace the groundwater pumping that’s been one of that region’s biggest contributors if not the biggest contributor to its perennial groundwater overdraft. Or, as Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold is considering for its Sierrita Mine, a water user in that area could bring in CAP to use on their own properties to replace their groundwater pumping.
The company has state approval to have its groves considered a Groundwater Savings Facility, in which other users could put CAP water there, allowing them to pump groundwater elsewhere—a practice that other water experts have criticized. At the same time, if developers or mining companies or anyone else is recharging CAP at the groves so they can pump groundwater elsewhere, that’s generally considered a better idea than the current practice of recharging CAP water in Marana – where little or no pumping is occurring and the water table is simply building up.
Community Water Co.’s pipeline is considerably more controversial, primarily because it is being paid for by Augusta Resource Corp., Rosemont Copper’s parent company. This pipeline was originally proposed, first and foremost, as a way for the mining company to bring CAP water down to Green Valley-Sahuarita to replenish groundwater pumped for its mine across the Santa Rita Mountains. Now, it’s being sold the way FICO is selling its pipeline—as a way to bring in more CAP water for every user down there.
Community Water is also trying to sell this project as a wildlife habitat enhancement scheme. They’re planning to recharge their CAP water into sets of huge basins, holding 14,000 acre-feet each, and built in phases. But instead of building conventional looking basins such as those in Marana – which CWC pipeline project manager Raul Pina describes as “a square hole with water in it,” they’re planning to design these ponds more naturally, “more organic,” as CWC spokeswoman Carol Zimmerman puts it. They’re proposing flat slopes on the sides of the ponds, for shorebirds to walk in, with surrounding vegetation so the birds have a place to nest. They're also hoping to have public access to the ponds, to attract birders – complete with connections to neighboring walking trails.
Such a strategy clearly won’t impress opponents of the Rosemont Mine who charge that the mine will destroy thousands of acres of wildlife habitat in the Santa Ritas – an area they consider a jewel of this entire region. How the council will react is unknown, as only a couple of the council members gave me substantive comments in interviews last week.
The mine’s opponents attack this pipeline as one that will be compensating for a new use of groundwater in the area, compared to FICO’s pipeline that is supposed to bring in CAP to replace existing groundwater uses. In the long run, of course, both pipelines would enhance their region’s aquifers, assuming they can get more customers than what they’ve got now.
CWC doesn’t see this issue as competition between two pipelines, and points out that the region’s Upper Santa Cruz Providers and Users Group (PUG), which represents numerous regional water users, endorses both pipelines.
“Our project is six miles upstream of their Groundwater Savings Facility. FICO only goes as far as their permitted GSF, but this goes much further,” CWC’s Pina says. “The pipeline itself to our facility is also being oversized so in the future, somebody can hook up to it and bring it to the Canoa Ranch or where another recharge facility would be.”
FICO president Dick Walden, however, sees plenty of competition between the two pipelines. While some of the pecan groves’ wells will benefit from CWC’s recharge ponds—lying upstream from the groves – others will be negatively impacted by Rosemont’s pumping, he says. His company also eventually would want to expand its line, slated for 3.5 miles in its first phase, to 9 miles eventually.
“Today, we live with groundwater laws that gave mines a free ride,” says Walden, referring to the ability of mines to pump unlimited amounts as long as they get state permits—which usually can’t be denied to mining companies. “I don’t think anyone should have a the right to come in and destroy a business.”