Nevada Gold Mines recently announced their decision to put the Bureau of Land Management’s review of plans supporting the Long Canyon Phase Two mining expansion project on hold. The Long Canyon mine, located south of Interstate 80 between Wells and West Wendover, Nevada, has been operating as an open surface pit mine since early 2016.
Earlier this spring, Nevada Gold Mines submitted change of use applications with the State of Nevada Division of Water Resources that would enable them to expand into Phase Two mining operations some 1,000 feet below the water table.
However, a coalition of conservation groups responded with formal protests that expanding to underground mining operations and its subsequent groundwater pumping would dessicate the Johnson Springs Wetland Complex [JSWC], located near the Long Canyon mine. The JSWC is comprised of 88 individual springs and is home to rare fish species such as the relict dace.
“The Johnson Springs Wetland Complex serves a critical role in that area in terms of wildlife migrations,” Hadder said. “There are sensitive species that exist in that wetland complex, particularly the relict dace, which the Center for Biological Diversity has filed for an [endangered species] listing.”
Hadder also noted the cultural significance the wetland complex has to the Goshute people. Consequently, an expanded mining operation below the water table could have substantial impacts to those living in the area in multiple ways.
“Phase Two of the operation which would be to go much deeper below the water table and that would require what we call ‘dewatering,’” John Hadder, executive director at the Great Basin Resource Watch, said. “This means that you pump large quantities of water from around the mine site to lower the water table artificially so the workings stay dry.”
If the expansion to underground mining and groundwater pumping were to have gone through as proposed, over 43,000 gallons of water per minute would be pumped 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.
Nevada Gold Mines, created in 2019 as a joint venture between Barrick and Newmont Corporation, provided a written statement via email to the Sierra Nevada Ally acknowledging their recent announcement.
“The formation of the NGM joint venture between Barrick and Newmont Corporation in July of 2019 created an opportunity to challenge assumptions and apply new perspectives to projects, including evaluation against the company’s environmental and sustainability values. This analysis resulted in the decision to delay the permitting process to re-evaluate aspects of the project and engage in additional studies and designs to reduce the expected impacts. This work will be focused on water management and mitigating potential impacts to the aquifer and the nearby Johnson Springs Wetland Complex.”
Consequently, Nevada Gold Mines will continue evaluating the potential effects of dewatering on the JSWC with new studies throughout the fall.
“Nevada Gold Mines is pulling back on the NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] process and asked BLM and the Fish and Wildlife Service to hold on the permitting process while they conduct some new studies and try to develop a dewatering plan that has a lesser effect on the Johnson Springs Wetland Complex,” Hadder said. “So they’re presumably going to proceed with those studies throughout the fall.
Hadder states that the Nevada Gold Mine’s decision to pause their application for expansion comes after preliminary pumping tests showed negative effects to JSWC.
“Nevada Gold Mines had done pumping tests from where they would be pumping water from during their dewatering,” Hadder said. “[The pumping tests] showed a very rapid and significant effect over at the JSWC. So there appears to be a clear hydrologic connection and the forecasts are that the pumping scheme would dry up those springs completely.”
For Hadder, the re-evaluation of the expansion plans proved the significance JSWC has to its surrounding environment.
“Nevada Gold Mines stated that they thought this dewatering plan for Long Canyon was just like all the others dewatering plans in Nevada,” Hadder said. “But it’s not [the same] because you got a significant spring complex that is very close and very likely to be affected. But we’re happy to see that they’re least reconsidering this.”
Moving forward, Nevada Gold Mines has offered to have technical consultations with Great Basin Resource Watch, which works with communities in the Great Basin to protect their land, air and water from the negative effects of extraction.
“We have hydrologists that we work with, so we hope that Nevada Gold Mines will stay in touch on what they’re finding out about what might be an alternative process,” Hadder said. “We have some suggestions for them on how they might be able to avoid affecting the springs, but we’re very concerned that [revised plans] will probably still have a significant effect on the springs.”
In the meantime, Hadder is just pleased that a large mining company like Nevada Gold Mines is acknowledging the potential effects dewatering would have on JSWC.
“By the company acting in this way, they’re acknowledging that something more needs to be done to try to protect the environment there and that’s important,” Hadder said. “Hopefully they can come up with a plan which does provide better protections, but we believe it’s going to be a challenge because the mine is so close to the JSWC and the evidence to date has shown a significant connection between where they’re pumping and the sources of the spring.”
However, Hadder and the Great Basin Resource Watch would still like to see more from Nevada Gold Mines as their new environmental impact studies move forward.
“We would like to see an independent assessment of their studies to make sure that [the studies] follow correct scientific procedures and that the analysis is clean and well done,” Hadder said. “But I think it’s going to be information gathering over the next several months to see what better plan they can come up with. But at this point, [our] protests stay where they are.”
Scott King is a graduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno, pursuing his Master’s degree in Media Innovation. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Scott recently returned from Grenada, where he served for two years as a literacy teacher with the Peace Corps. Support his work in the Ally.