Yesterday, a coalition of conservation groups filed a formal protest with the State of Nevada Division of Water Resources in opposition to a plan to expand groundwater pumping around the Long Canyon gold mine in northeastern Nevada.
Great Basin Resource Watch, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club Toiyabe Chapter, Wild Horse Education, and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada have taken specific aim at 31 water rights applications to change irrigation water rights to mining and milling rights on a ranch adjacent to the mine.
The Long Canyon gold mine is just a few miles south of Interstate 80 and in between Wells and West Wendover, Nevada. Gold mineralization was first discovered at the Long Canyon site in 1999. After issuing two exploration permits, state and federal authorities ultimately approved the open pit gold mine in April of 2015.
Long Canyon mining operations began on January 4, 2016. The project area covers both private land, owned or controlled by Nevada Gold Mines and public lands administered by US Bureau Land Management.
Some 250 people are directly employed at the mine.
Explore the area around the Long Canyon mine with this interactive map
Nevada Gold Mines is planning phase two of the Long Valley project, which includes an underground mine. Phase two operations require miners to draw the local water table down some 1,000 feet below the surface to keep the workings dry.
John Hadder is director of the Great Basin Resource Watch and says the mining company has purchased nearby lands for the water rights.
“The applications were filed back in February for this change of use,” Hadder said by phone. “The mining company had bought the ranch that was near the area, the Big Springs Ranch, and that’s why they had the irrigation rights.
“But they can’t actually pump water for the mine unless they have mining and milling rights. So they had to do a change of use application.”
The permit would allow Nevada Gold Mines to pump up to 43,000 gallons of water per minute from the Goshute Valley aquifer on the eastern side of the North Pequop Mountains. The proposed dewatering would pump an average of 45,000 acre-feet per year. Hadder and the coalition of conservation groups point out that that amount of water is over half the annual water used in a year by the Truckee Meadows Water Authority, the water purveyor for Reno and Sparks.
The coalition of groups contend that lowering the aquifer 1,000 feet below the surface will desiccate the Johnson Springs Wetland Complex. The complex is made up of 88 individual springs with a combined total long-term average flow of 1,715 gallons per minute.
Hadder says the dewatering plan will cause significant harm to numerous species of wildlife to include sage grouse, endangered relict dace and game species such as mule deer, pronghorn sheep and elk. The conservation groups expressed particular concern for a fish once thought extinct, the Independence Valley tui chub.
“There’s issues affecting existing water rights,” Hadder said. “There’s a huge environmental impact to this dewatering project. The Big Spring, Johnson Springs complex is right there. It’s a major wetland area for the Gosute Valley and region, significant to many sensitive wildlife species “It’s also an enormous cultural area for the Gosute people as well.”
To mitigate the effects of dewatering, Nevada Gold Mines proposes a water replacement plan. Hadder said springs and other surface expressions of water would still dry up. He added that the plan does not consider the quality of the reconstituted groundwater to include water chemistry, water temperature, turbidity, and other aspects of water flow.
The coalition of conservation groups say it will take the regional water table 150 years to return to normal after the mine ceases operation. Hadder says endangered species of wildlife hang in the balance.
Hadder says, the proposed dewatering is going to draw water from four other basins that surround the Gosute Valley, the main one being Independence Valley. The Independence Valley is important because in the Warm Springs area there is the Independence Valley speckled dace, which is a species listed as endangered.
The State of Nevada Division of Water Resources will decide what action to take in response to the protest. State Engineer Tim Wilson may disregard the protest or call a hearing when the COVID-19 outbreak has subsided.
“The state engineer (Tim Wilson) will look at the protests and could render decision and set them aside or he could call for a hearing on the protests. To our knowledge, the Gosute tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Gosute reservation also filed a protest, so there’s more than one out there. And there’s a number of groups involved. So we think it’s likely that the state engineer will call for a hearing,” Hadder said.