Proposed state stream rule changes could help Rosemont Mine
Arizona environmental regulators are considering rule changes that could weaken protections for streams that would help clear the way for construction of the proposed Rosemont Copper Mine in the Santa Rita Mountains on the Coronado National Forest southeast of Tucson.
The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality will hold a public meeting to discuss the proposed rule changes Thursday, May 10 at the State of Arizona Office Building, 400 W. Congress in Tucson.
The all-day meeting includes a discussion that is related to streams that would be negatively impacted by the mile-wide, half-mile deep open pit mine from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
The late afternoon meeting will include a discussion on the definitions and regulations for designating and managing Outstanding Arizona Waters that currently receive the highest level of state protection under the federal Clean Water Act. The proposed mine would impact two streams currently classified as Outstanding Arizona Waters: Davidson Canyon and Cienega Creek.
The OAW designation is crucial because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has told Hudbay that its application for a Clean Water Act permit needed to build the $1.9 billion mine is in jeopardy because of the mine’s negative impacts on Davidson Canyon.
The state has formed a committee to develop proposed rules. The ccommittee includestwo officials from ADEQ, the Sierra Club, Pima County, the Arizona Mining Association, Rosemont Copper, Cienega Watershed Partnership, Community Water Coalition, Arizona Game & Fish Department and National Park Service.
“ADEQ sees these rule revisions as a positive means to further enhance Arizona’s unique environment and support environmentally responsible economic growth,” the committee documents state.
The committee is focusing on four questions related to Outstanding Arizona Waters:
- How can ADEQ define “good water quality” (R18-11- 112(D)(3)) more clearly to avoid confusion in determining whether a water is eligible for OAW consideration?
- Once a water has become an OAW what action should be undertaken to ensure that it is being maintained and protected as a Tier 3 water under R18-11-107(D)?
- What actions should ADEQ take if data shows that water quality is degrading in or if impairment status is determined on a water that is listed as an OAW?
- Should ADEQ consider modifying the flow-regime based OAW eligibility requirements in this rulemaking? If so, what changes are recommended by the workgroup, and why?
Environmental leaders and Pima County are advocating for standards that provide the greatest protection possible to Outstanding Arizona Waters while Rosemont and the Arizona Mining Association are seeking to weaken protections. (See final recommendations.)
Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry in 2017 said Rosemont Copper, which is owned by Toronto-based Hudbay Minerals Inc., is laying the groundwork for the ADEQ to remove Davidson Canyon from the OAW list.
“This thinly disguised attempt by Hudbay to reverse the longstanding designation of Davidson Canyon as an OAW should be summarily rejected as a self-serving gesture to facilitate pollution of Arizona’s surface waters,” Huckelberry wrote in a June 29, 2017 letter to the ADEQ.
“We will vigorously oppose any attempt to remove Davidson Canyon from the present list of OAW in order to facilitate reduced water quality standards,” Huckelberry concluded.