Across the West, mine proposals’ water demands far outstrip supply

Jan 25, 2024

Mining claims have proliferated across Western states in recent years, driven by demand for minerals to produce electric vehicle batteries and other renewable energy technologies, and helped by the fact that staking a mining claim is very easy to do under the General Mining Law of 1872, which still governs hardrock mining despite being wildly outdatedThese minerals are present in significant quantities in Western states; however, the massive amount of water required to mine them is not. The proposed Resolution copper mine in Arizona, for example, will need an amount of water that would be enough for 1.5 million Arizona homes for 40 years. And as Tao Etpison, vice chairman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, points out, “Once the groundwater is gone, it’s gone. How is this in the best interests of Arizona?” A report commissioned by the Tribe concluded that, “By pumping billions of gallons of groundwater from the East Salt River Valley, this project would make Arizona’s goal for stewardship of its scarce groundwater resources unreachable.”

This challenge is all too familiar to other Western states. “Nevadans almost more than any other state have had to wrestle with the availability or lack thereof of water for development for its entire history,” said Mason Voehl, executive director of the Amargosa Conservancy. But because mining is still governed by an antiquated law that was designed to encourage resource extraction by giving away rights to land, the rights that come along with mining claims are powerful. According to Roger Flynn, director and managing attorney of the Western Mining Action Project, “Water is going to be scarcer in the Southwest but the mining industry is basically immune from all these issues.

Department of Energy survey finds that community opposition, not environmental review, delays and kills wind and solar projects

A survey of wind and solar developers conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 2023 and released this month found that local ordinances or zoning, grid interconnection challenges, and local opposition to wind and solar projects based on visual concerns, community character, and property values were the most likely cause of project delays and cancellations. Fewer than 20 percent of respondents listed environmental restrictions among their top three causes of delays and cancellations. Both a summary and a full report are available on the LBNL website.

Quick hits

White House delaying decision on enormous natural gas export terminal

New York Times

Great Basin Tribes want Bahsahwahbee site designated as a national monument

Associated Press

Wyoming considers repurposing closing coal mine as industrial park to lure other industries

Cowboy State Daily

The Great Salt Lake is drying up. Can it be saved?


Lawmakers renew push for workforce housing on Forest Service land

Steamboat Pilot & Today

Conservation groups challenge Air Force training plan over Owyhee Canyonlands

OPB | E&E News

Tree-ring study finds West’s twenty-year megadrought is unprecedented in at least the past 500 years

Washington Post | CNN | Newsweek

Opinion: Rock Springs RMP will strike the balance Wyoming needs

Wyo4 News

Quote of the day

It’s now a question of can we remake our legal and political system fast enough to do what’s required? Because the lake doesn’t respond to the number of bills that are passed. It responds to the amount of water that gets to it.”

—Ben Abbott, Brigham Young University, WBUR

Picture This

Did you know that of the more than 20,000 petroglyphs at the monument, only 55 are thought to depict plants?
This petroglyph is believed to be of a yucca pod. Yucca is one of the most important and most versatile plants in the SW. Every part of the plant is useful. Yucca can be made in sandals, rope, twine, baskets, medicine, and shampoo. It also produces fruit that can be eaten in a number of ways. Yucca has been utilized by the Native Peoples of the SW for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
NPS Photo / Daniel Leifheit


Feature image: The Morenci copper mine in Arizona, Tom Blackwell via Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0