ADEQ set to take action on major mining projects in Arizona

Photo by Jamie Cochran | Cronkite News

As mining operations ramp up across Arizona, two massive projects facing opposition from environmental groups and Native American tribes have public comment deadlines in the coming weeks.

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality is accepting comments on the proposed Resolution Copper project near Superior through April 7 and for the Copper World project in the Santa Rita Mountains, about 30 miles south of Tucson, through April 10.

Both projects have been in the works for more than a decade in one form or another, but with the passage of time and a system of laws largely designed to facilitate mining in the state, the legal process is slowly working toward a conclusion.

Resolution Copper

Despite a 6-5 decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on March 1 to allow the transfer of 3.75 acres of U.S. Forest Service land around Oak Flat to Resolution Copper, the project still faces legal battles and additional permitting that could delay or eventually kill it.

The court’s decision came in response to a lawsuit filed by nonprofit Apache Stronghold, a citizen’s group of the San Carlos Apache Tribe that has been fighting alongside groups such as the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition to save Oak Flat in the Tonto National Forest. The area is a sacred place for the San Carlos Apaches, as well as an important ecological area and a recreational destination for rock climbers, campers and hikers.

Apache Stronghold asked that Oak Flat be declared Western Apache land with full treaty and property rights for the Apaches in accordance with the 1852 Treaty of Santa Fe.

San Carlos Apache Chairman Terry Rambler issued a statement in the wake of the court’s ruling stating that, “The culturally and environmentally devastating Resolution project is no closer to construction today than it was before the appeals court ruling,” and that the San Carlos Apache Tribe “will continue to fight construction of the project that would have devastating impacts to the tribe’s culture, the environment and Arizona’s drinking water supplies.”

The land transfer was included in a rider to a 2014 military spending bill and would exchange the Forest Service land for eight parcels owned by Resolution. It was put on hold when the project’s final environmental impact statement was withdrawn by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2021 to give the department time to consult with Native American tribes.

The project

Resolution Copper is a partnership between Rio Tinto, a multinational mining corporation headquartered in London and BHP, an Australian corporation.

BHP also owns extensive property throughout Arizona’s “Copper Corridor,” including property in Globe that was donated to create Old Dominion Mine Park in 2016.

The park was closed in 2020 for stabilization of mine tailings stored on the site.  In 2021, park closure was continued for “drilling activities and further remediation work on the tailings.

Oak Flat sits over one of the largest remaining copper deposits in the world. The mine would sink more than 7,000 feet into the ground, where temperatures reach 180 degrees Fahrenheit. It would require large quantities of water for cooling, dust control to remediation of mine waste.

In the end, it would leave a crater more than one mile wide and 1,100 feet deep, coming within 1,000 feet of the iconic Apache Leap just east of the town of Superior.

The project would ultimately employ somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,400 people and inject an estimated $20 billion into Arizona’s economy, according to Resolution Copper, all while supplying the United States with one-quarter of its copper for the next 40-60 years.

Resolution Copper is expected to use 16,000  to 20,000 acre-feet of water per year. As a comparison, the city of Mesa with a population of about 500,000 uses approximately 91,536 acre-feet per year.

One acre-foot of water equals 325,851 gallons, or the amount of water needed to cover an acre of land a foot deep. On average in Arizona, one acre-foot of water is enough for 3.5 homes for a full year.

Recycled Water Permit

On March 8, ADEQ announced that it intends to issue an Individual Industrial Recycled Water Permit to Resolution Copper Mining.

In a March 22 email update, Roger Featherstone, director of the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition, reported that the permit “would allow Resolution Copper to deliver water obtained from the dewatering of their mine facilities at Oak Flat and near Superior to the New Magma Irrigation and Drainage District (NMIDD) where it would be mixed with water coming from the Colorado River via the CAP canal and used for irrigation.”

The 30-day comment period ends on April 7, but there is no public hearing scheduled. To comment, request an extension of the comment period or a public hearing, go to

The Forest Service website devoted to the federal permitting process can be found at

For more information about Resolution Copper, go to For more about Apache Stronghold, go to www.apache-stronghold. com.

Copper World

Water is at the heart of the next public phase of the Copper World project in Southern Arizona.

ADEQ is accepting comments on the draft Aquifer Protection Permit needed for Toronto-based Hudbay Minerals Inc. to begin mining on property it has done a significant amount of work on in preparation to begin operations.

The most recent Copper World proposal would span 44 years in two phases, beginning on the west side of the mountain range near the town of Green Valley. The first phase would include a 17-year mine life on property that Hudbay already owns. 

That initial phase would allow the multinational corporation ample time to obtain permits required to mine on the public lands to the east of the initial site. Once fully completed, operations would obliterate a 1.5-mile stretch of ridgeline and leave millions of tons of mine waste behind.

Efforts to stop the project have been led by the group Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, and Pima County has publicly opposed the project since at least 2011.

In a March 11 20-page comment to ADEQ, Pima County Administrator Jan Lesher voiced concern over ADEQ’s use of “outdated and less than industry standards” to protect the aquifer below the proposed site.

Stating that Hudbay’s application for the permit was “even less protective of the environment than designs submitted by previous owners of the original Rosemont Mine Project,” Lesher asked ADEQ to “require the additional permit conditions, design requirements and agency reviews detailed in our comments to better ensure the design of this mine is more protective of the aquifer.”

“Where ADEQ is unable to require the deployment of industry standards to minimize pollution, ADEQ should encourage Hudbay to voluntarily incorporate such standards,” she wrote. “Compromising the quality of our community’s water supply due to outdated standards in Arizona law in the name of reducing Hudbay’s costs is unacceptable.”

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