Lithium mining’s threat to water supplies

Jan 29, 2024

The Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at Arizona State University has launched a comprehensive investigation of the predicted impact of proposed new lithium mines on U.S. water supplies. Their findings cover a surge of proposals to open new mines that are primarily located in the American West. Each mine will need billions of gallons of water to operate at a time when the region is experiencing the worst mega-drought in 1,200 years.

Investigators reviewed tens of thousands of pages of state and federal environmental impact statements and mining operation reports filed by companies through the end of December 2023. Some key findings from the investigation show that there are no federal rules governing how much water any type of mine can consume; America’s only currently operating commercial lithium mine, Silver Peak in Nevada, is responsible for drying up nearby monitoring wells; and the majority of proposed lithium projects in the U.S. intend to take water from already stressed sources like the Colorado River or strained groundwater systems.

Forty of the 72 proposed lithium mines included in the investigation are located in Nevada, America’s driest state. The Central Nevada Regional Water Authority hired water scientists to monitor groundwater levels near the Silver Peak lithium mine, which records show has pumped nearly four billion gallons of water from underground every year since 2020. While officials at the Silver Peak mine deny its operations are impacting freshwater aquifers, the water scientists’ evidence shows a disturbing pattern: underground water sources are dwindling and even disappearing altogether.

2023 America the Beautiful report touts “Historic conservation progress”

The Biden-Harris administration released the third annual report on President Biden’s America the Beautiful initiative that enshrines the national goal of protecting 30 percent of America’s land and water by 2030. “President Biden recognizes that in the midst of a biodiversity and climate crisis, our focus on conservation is essential to the health of people and the planet,” said Brenda Mallory, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “From restoring wetlands and building new parks to reconnecting wildlife habitat and protecting more than 26 million acres of lands and waters, conservation efforts are accelerating across the country to the benefit of families and communities everywhere.”

Quick hits

Lithium mining’s threat to water supplies

Cronkite News/AZ PBS

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Quote of the day

Public lands have to play an integral part in America’s energy transition and the only way that happens is with good planning. That’s what this solar plan is.”

—Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities, Inside Climate News

Picture This

An orange and yellow sunset illuminates the twisty pine trees that are known as bristlecone.

@usinterior

“You look great, not a day over 3,000 years old!”

Bristlecone pines are among the oldest living organisms on earth. Shaped by wind, snow and rain, they’ve survived thousands of years, overseeing the rise and fall of empires, growing through ice ages and enduring catastrophic volcanic eruptions. Their ability to withstand harsh environments and adverse growing conditions is their secret to incredible longevity.

Photo by Thomas Sikora

#bristleconepine #nevada #greatbasin #publiclands #pinetrees

Featured image: Lithium Operation in Clayton Valley, a dry lake bed in Esmeralda County, Nevada, just east of the town of Silver Peak. Source: Wikimedia Commons