Data Dump: Gold King, water, and some good news for rivers and fish
(BREAKING: $90 million settlement reached on Gold King)
BREAKING: We have just received word that the federal government and the owner of the Sunnyside Mine have agreed to pay a total of $90 million to settle claims relating to the 2015 Gold King Mine blowout. The proposed consent decree will be posted in the Federal Register and opened to public comment for 30 days prior to being finalized.
That consent decree will “resolve all claims, cross-claims, and counterclaims between the United States and Sunnyside Gold Corporation and Kinross Gold Corporation (the “Mining Defendants”) in this multidistrict litigation,” according to the U.S. District Court of New Mexico filing.
The Land Desk will have more details—along with a wonkfest explaining why Sunnyside is even involved with an incident that occurred at a mine it doesn’t own—next week.
The settlement by the numbers:
Amount Sunnyside Gold Corp., a subsidiary of Canada-based Kinross Gold, will pay to the federal government under the settlement, all of which will be used to finance cleanup relating to the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site.
Amount Sunnyside Gold will pay to the Colorado Dept. of Health and Environment.
Amount the U.S. government, on behalf of federal settling agencies—the Environmental Protection Agency, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Forest Service—will pay to “appropriate federal accounts” under the settlement.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey hopes to rescue his state from a water-scarce future by spending $1 billion or more building desalination plants on the Sea of Cortez in Mexico and piping the water back north. “Instead of just talking about desalination – the technology that made Israel the world’s water superpower,” Ducey said last week, “how about we pave the way to make it actually happen?”
Sheesh, why didn’t anyone think of that sooner, right? Well, they have thought of it, and in most cases they’ve dropped the plans because desalination plants are expensive to build, are extremely energy intensive, and wouldn’t even be able to offset Arizona’s loss of Colorado River water.
Most likely Ducey’s plan will be forgotten, as well, as soon as he is term-limited out of office at the end of this year. But you can bet that one day it will be revived—along with a slew of other extravagant schemes to perpetuate the delusion that a state like Arizona can go on growing without reckoning with the limits of the land and water.
Desal, by the numbers:
1 acre-foot = 325,851 gallons
7.7 million acre feet
Amount of water Arizonans collectively use for drinking, watering, irrigation and other purposes each year
Amount by which Arizona’s 2.8 million-acre-feet allocation of the Colorado River will be cut this year under the Tier 1 Shortage emergency
200,000 acre feet
Amount of water produced annually from hypothetical desalination plants considered by a 2020 Binational Study of Water Desalination Opportunities in the Sea of Cortez
The amount of power required to desalinate 1 acre-foot of sea water
Amount of power used by Central Arizona Project to move 1 acre-foot of water from the Colorado River to Phoenix and Tucson
The amount of water required to generate 1 megawatt-hour of electricity from burning coal
Amount allocated for desalination projects in the Infrastructure and Jobs Act.
Estimated minimum cost to build desalination plants and associated infrastructure capable of delivering 200,000 acre feet of water per year to Arizona
$39 million to $86 million
Estimated annual costs for energy to power the desalination plant and pumps to convey the water northward
Cost to produce an acre-foot of water from the proposed desalination plant
Price for an acre-foot of water from the Central Arizona Project, which carries Colorado River water to the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas
Approximate amount of water lost from the Central Arizona Project canal via evaporation and seepage each year
Southwestern Utah’s Iron County water managers also face a water-deficient future and hope to remedy it by drilling for groundwater in neighboring Beaver County. The Pine Valley Water Project would consist of 15 wells along with a solar facility, storage tanks, pipelines, and transmission lines located mostly on Bureau of Land Management acreage. The water primarily would be used for irrigation and municipal uses.
Conservationists have urged the BLM to reject the project because it would deplete Great Basin groundwater flows, possibly affecting the already-shrinking Great Salt Lake and the Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge. It is one of a handful of proposed water projects currently on the table in Utah, including the Lake Powell Pipeline, which would also deliver water to the state’s fast-growing southwest corner.
The Pine Valley project is necessary, proponents say, because of “the lack of sufficient existing water resources within the overdrawn Cedar Valley basin to respond to growing population needs.” The state plans on handling the overallocation of Cedar Valley water by rescinding water rights “until the basin is back within safe yield estimates.” The water district claims conservation alone won’t overcome the deficit. No mention is made of limiting growth or fallowing thirsty alfalfa fields.
262 gallons per-person per-day
Amount of water the Central Iron County Water Conservancy District delivers to its customers. Each American, on average, uses about 80 gallons of water per day.
Population of Iron County, 2020, a 25 percent increase from 2010.
Tons of hay produced on Iron County farms in 2017
Acres of irrigated acreage on which hay was harvested in Iron County in 2017
Number of cattle in Iron County at the beginning of last year
Amount of water those cattle consume each year (based on 10.6 gallons per day per animal)
15,000 acre-feet per year
Amount of water the Pine Valley Water Project would siphon from aquifers
Estimated cost of the proposed project
A few more water-related stats and data:
2,910 cubic feet per second
The Animas River’s peak streamflow in 2021. The median peak for the period of record is about 4,500 cfs, and the lowest on record was in 2002 at 1,010 cfs.
Consecutive weeks 40 percent or more of the U.S. has been in some level of drought, breaking the previous record set in 2012-131. “What we are seeing is that more and more, drought is not just a ‘summer’ event in the Midwest and Plains or a ‘winter’ event in the West. It is coming at us in all shapes and sizes in terms of intensity, duration and rate of onset,” said Brian Fuchs, Monitoring lead at the National Drought Mitigation Center.
Percent of the West in some level of drought as of Jan. 4, 2022.
And, let’s finish this one on a positive note, shall we? The Jicarilla Apache Nation, the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, and the Nature Conservancy have finalized an agreement allowing the state to lease up to 20,000 acre-feet per-year of water from the Jicarilla Apache Nation. This water mostly will then be kept in the San Juan River to benefit endangered fish and to ensure there is enough water in the river to meet downstream compact obligations (which will allow New Mexico to continue to divert San Juan water for use within the state).
The Jicarilla Apache Nation had been leasing about 16,200 acre-feet per-year to Public Service Company of New Mexico for use in the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station between Farmington and Shiprock. But with the power plant scheduled to close this summer, PNM no longer needed the water and ended the lease. Enchant Energy still hopes to equip the plant with carbon capture technology and keep it running, which will require even more water than the plant currently uses, but Enchant officials have said they can find water elsewhere—it’s one of the smallest obstacles they’ll need to overcome to realize their dream.
A recent study out of the University of Utah found that the best—and maybe only—way to maintain a sustainable population of native fish in the Colorado River watershed is by ensuring natural, variable streamflows, which have been disrupted by diversions and dams and overuse. Deals like this one should help restore the rivers to some semblance of their former, fish-friendly states. This is the sort of solution to the coming water crisis—not new dams, desal plants, and unfettered groundwater withdrawals—that makes sense.
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Unfortunately these records only go back to 2000. There were also extended droughts across a good portion of the country in the 1950s and 1930s that may have been more severe and lasted longer than the current drought. Those earlier dry spells show up in the Animas River mean flow chart in this dispatch.