Reno – The films Tainted Thirst and Great Basin Water Protectors debuted in Las Vegas on March 21, and the following day, World Water Day, the pair of short films were screened on University of Nevada Reno campus. For some insight, we spoke by phone with Ian Bigley, mining justice organizer for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) and Beverly Harry, native community organizer for PLAN about the films they produced.
Hear the conversation with Ian Bigley.
Hear the conversation with Beverly Harry.
Tainted Thirst is focused on people’s personal experiences with mining and is not a technical exploration of mineral extraction in Nevada.
Ian Bigley and partners began filming last spring and visited communities across the state and conducted interviews with those impacted by mining. They visited the Phoenix mine in the Cortez Complex near Battle Mountain, the Anaconda copper mine in the Mason Valley near Yerington, and the Robinson mine just outside Ely.
The short film focuses on two aspects of mining impacts on water: the effects of deep dewatering to gain mineral access and the need for perpetual treatment of contaminated water in technically closed mines. Bigley said acid mine drainage is a big problem that exists in some Nevada mines forever and requires treatment of contaminated water in perpetuity.
“There are currently two mines in Nevada, and with their approved mine closure plan, they are planning to build water treatment facilities and actively treating water indefinitely, which means until there are no humans left, so we’re looking at them treating water for not hundreds of years but for thousands and thousands of years,” Bigley said.
Last week, the Colorado Legislature passed a bill that would all but ban the perpetual treatment of water as an acceptable mine closure strategy, and for Bigley, there are several pressing issues regarding perpetual water treatment at closed mines.
“There’s a moral issue. What kind of a future are we leaving for future generations. How are we leaving the land for future generations. There’s the issue of this being good water that then becomes worse water, even after it’s treated. It’s still not the same quality of water it was before it was contaminated, so we’re in the most arid state in the country, what does that mean for the environment,” Bigley asked.
The upshot for Bigley is that the perpetual of treatment of water is, in the long term, a losing business model.
“This is inherently not an economic mine if you’re going to treat water indefinitely. If you’re going to treat water for thousands of years, it’s going to cost more than the value of the mineral resource you extracted,” Bigley said.
The Anaconda copper mine near Yerington operated from the early 1950s to 1978. The sprawling site predates many current state and federal mining regulations, and the Superfund site is the source of several significant environmental problems.
“There is a plume of groundwater with elevated uranium levels resulting from the mine site and it’s moving north from the mine site,” Bigley said. “And just north of the mine, is the Yerington Paiute Reservation.
“For a little over the past decade, British Petroleum has paid for bottled water delivery, but then the tribe has had to pay to build and operate their own water treatment facility that treats the water for showers and whatnot, and that is an externalized cost of a company that had been mining there and went bankrupt and is now falling on communities to treat that water.”
“Newmont, which owns the Phoenix site, which is a perpetual treatment site, if they’re not here to treat the water in 200 and 500 years, which given the history of corporations we can’t expect them to last 500 years, who is going to pay to clean up that water,” Bigley asked.
Great Basin Water Protectors
Beverly Harry is native community organizer for PLAN and produced the short film Great Basin Water Protectors. She said the protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in part of North and South Dakota inspired her to make a film about the pipeline that would carry water from rural Nevada to Las Vegas. Harry and a team of prayer runners ran the route of the water pipeline and filmed the effort.
“We decided to do this run. It was 300 miles long, and it simulated the route that the pipeline was going to run from the Great Basin National Park and ran 300 miles in 3 days. We had indigenous runners from New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California that came to deliver the prayers from the Great Basin all the way to the Colorado River.
“Indigenous people have always been impacted by non-native people,” Harry continued. “People that have lived here after contact. The native lands they lived on were virtually unimpacted until non-natives came here. Now, those people, the indigenous people are still impacted. Land from the Great Basin to the western part of Nevada, and coming down from northern Nevada to Las Vegas, those were traditional lands of the Goshute, the western Shoshone, the Washoe tribe, the northern Paiute, the southern Paiutes, and then here in the valley, right in the downtown area there were springs that cement pads throughout the valley had decimated. Those were the springs that the Las Vegas Paiute tribe and other tribes within this area shared.
“So we brought the prayers from the Great Basin National Park, and we brought them through one of the areas where one of the largest massacres of western Shoshone occurred and we brought those prayers down to lake Mead and to the Las Vegas area hoping that there has to be something, some type of power that stops this insanity.”
Harry said there is a lesson in the rate at which our natural resources, in particular water, have been impacted by growth and development in her short lifetime.
“In 1969 and 1970, I remember what the world looked like, and now you look at it and reflect how much devastation has happened over the past 100 years and realize how quickly we can mess up the world.”