Open Pit Mining in Arizona

You may not know it, but there are many abandoned mines (100,000, but only 19,000 officially identified) in Arizona. You may already know this state produces more copper than any other state, which also has gold and silver mines. I began thinking about mines when I read a highway sign on my way to Summerhaven. It stated there had once been 1300 mines in the valley I was overlooking to the east. Another day I was bicycling past a couple of open pits with their warning signs on the west side of Tucson. Then I got thinking about the jaguar, Gila topminnows, Chiricahua leopard frogs and yellow-billed cuckoos in the Las Cienagas National Conservation Area and Nature Conservancy property near the Sonoita Creek Watershed because I heard mining was proposed for the area. How would that wildlife survive mining activity?

There is plenty to absorb when learning about mining practices whether it be a shaft mine or an open pit mine, but here are my concerns: using our already scarce desert water and degradation of and leaving behind a toxic environment. The population in this state increases each year and clean water is always needed. A mining operation uses millions of gallons of water per day. When mining is done a scar at least a mile wide and 3,000 feet deep remains, and since backfilling an open pit can cause more environmental damage and safety concerns it is not done. Here’s the additional water concern, besides the millions of gallons of water used each day, the pit would puncture our aquifer and drain water into it creating a pit lake. That is not the direction water should be going! The water from the mine is not to be part of our groundwater and drinking water. An aquifer is to be separate and going to creeks and springs providing clean water for wildlife, along with being our future drinking water. The pit lake water evaporates faster than if in an aquifer, plus metals in the water are concentrated and years later create a toxic ground environment.

Is politics involved in any of this business activity? Apparently so. July 2016 there was the Clean Water Act to be adhered to and some mines had to refocus their process since they could not meet the guidelines. But after a political appointment was made (Deputy Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt) in March 2019, Clean Water permits began to be approved! Due to various opposition to some mining proposals, some projects are on hold. The best way to get involved with stopping industrialized mining is to join advocacy groups such as checking out the Patagonia Area Resource Alliance website. There you will find information and current concerns.

On the other side you’ll hear advantages of a mine: about 2500 people hired for typically a 3 year construction period, wages two times the median in the area, 500 people employed for the 19 years typical for the life of a mine, and metals extracted and shipped for products to be made, such as electronics. Then ask: do we have millions of water to give away each day? Is our aquifer protected so we have drinking water now and the future? Do you know what that scar on the earth looks like? Why are we making our environment unhealthy for wildlife and ugly? Are you aware that Native American tribes consider some of these lands sacred? Why is a foreign country ruining our land and water for their economic business? How many more endangered species do we need to lose before we care?

This is not just about Arizona. Many U.S. states and places around the world are facing similar issues. Be aware of what we are doing to our planet Earth. Future generations wish to enjoy water, air and land within healthy lifestyles so let’s be sure we leave them the best we can!