Last week, GRIP filed a protest with the Office of the State Engineer to block a water rights transfer needed by Freeport-McMoRan to construct and operate a new open pit at its Tyrone Mine.
Five other protests were filed by private landowners near the proposed Emma Expansion Project, which would be located directly south of Tyrone’s existing open pit operation and north of the Apache Mound subdivision.
“The company’s permit application with the Mining and Minerals Division says it will pump water from the Emma pit in perpetuity,” said GRIP Executive Director Allyson Siwik, “but they are only asking the State Engineer for the right to pump for ten years. This means the mine is underestimating the impact its pumping will have on neighboring wells,” Siwik said. “They have only modeled the impact of ten years of pumping, but they’ll be dewatering the area for centuries.”
“Water law can be very complicated, but this case is simple: if you need to pump water forever, you have to ask the State Engineer for a permanent right of use,” said Siwik.
According to the group’s protest, if the State Engineer approves the temporary request, it will effectively forfeit its authority to deny future renewals of the permit. “Once the pit is created, maintaining good groundwater quality will require continued pumping,” said Siwik. “Even if neighboring wells are being dried up, the State Engineer will need to grant the renewals to prevent widespread contamination.”
GRIP’s protest also asserts the assumptions used in the mine’s hydrology report were flawed. “They modeled the drawdown as if the area were full of alluvial soil,” Siwik said. “That not what’s out there – it’s mostly fractured rock, and water behaves very differently in that sort of geology.”
Siwik questioned whether the mine is living up to its claim to be a good neighbor to area residents. “We think Freeport should offer to monitor nearby private wells to ensure its operations are not affecting them. Freeport should also put a plan of action in place to mitigate any impairment of domestic wells that may be caused by Emma’s operations,” she said. “With water likely to be ever scarcer, it’s important to wildlife and people alike that the mine not dry up the springs in nearby Cherry Creek.”
“Without better data and long-term modeling, we can’t really say whether the Emma pit will dry up wells and springs or not,” Siwik said. “The people who live and recreate out there deserve a better effort by Freeport, and the State Engineer should demand a complete and scientifically rigorous application.”
Read GRIP’s protest HERE.