Hudbay Minerals’ primary mitigation project needed to obtain the federal Clean Water Act permit necessary to construct the $1.9 billion Rosemont Copper Mine is based on a misleading scientific analysis and fails to offset for the loss of desert aquatic resources that would be destroyed by the massive open-pit mine, according to an analysis by a leading expert on rivers and wetlands.
G. Mathias Kondolf, a University of California Professor of Environmental Planning and an internationally-known expert on hydrology and river restoration, prepared the report for Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, a Tucson-based conservation group opposed to the Rosemont mine. SSSR released the report in a Jan. 4 press release.
Kondolf’s Dec. 29, 2017 report was submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is currently reviewing Hudbay’s application for a Section 404 Clean Water Act permit needed to construct the massive open-pit mine.
The Corps cannot legally issue the 404 permit unless Hudbay provides sufficient mitigation to compensate for the destruction of aquatic resources in the Cienega Creek watershed that will result from construction of the mile-wide, half-mile deep open pit and dumping of waste rock and mine tailings on more than 2,500 acres of the Coronado National Forest.
The Corps’ Los Angeles district office recommended denying the permit in July 2016, in part, because Hudbay failed to provide adequate environmental mitigation. The Corps’ San Francisco regional office is currently reviewing Hudbay’s application.
Kondolf has served as a member of the Corps’ Independent External Peer Review Committee, on two panels for the National Academy of Science and provided expert testimony to the U.S. Supreme Court, Congress, the International Court of Justice, the California Water Resources Control Board and other legal proceedings in the U.S.
Kondolf analyzed Hudbay’s latest mitigation proposal that is focused on re-engineering a portion of Sonoita creek about 20 miles south of the mine site in a manner that purportedly would create additional wetlands sufficient to mitigate the destruction of aquatic resources caused by the mine.
Ironically, Hudbay is proposing to compensate for significant impacts to U.S. waters by destroying 8.9 acres of Sonoita Creek. Hudbay states it would then rebuild a far more meandering creek bed designed to increase the amount of existing U.S. waters that could then be counted as sufficient mitigation for the mine.
Hudbay proposed a similar plan several years ago that was deemed inadequate by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Corps. The EPA hired Kondolf as an expert consultant to prepare a report on Hudbay’s first plan. Kondolf determined Hudbay’s first plan would not achieve the mitigation goals.
Hudbay’s revised Sonoita Creek plan also falls far short of providing mitigation, Kondolf concludes in his latest report prepared for SSSR.
“Neither the former nor current mitigation proposals address a fundamental problem: the mitigation proposed on Sonoita Creek is on a very different kind of system than the headwater reaches of the Cienega Creek tributaries that would be filled by the mine,” Kondolf states.
“Thus, actions on Sonoita Creek would not mitigate for loss of aquatic resources in the Cienega Creek watershed. The comparison of physical attributes of the impacted and mitigation sites…does not support the choice of mitigation site, but rather provides evidence that Sonoita Creek is not a suitable substitute for the headwater stream habitat that would be lost by construction of the mine.”
Not only is the Sonoita Creek mitigation proposal located in a different ecological area, Kondolf concludes that the re-engineered stream bed is likely to fail within a few years, reducing the amount of mitigation wetlands that would be created.
“Channel reconstructions elsewhere, with sinuous meander bends similar to those proposed for Sonoita Creek, have frequently failed, as documented in the literature,” the reports states.
“The failure mechanism is commonly by the stream cutting across constructed meander bends. Meander bends with artificially high sinuosity, such as proposed for the reconstructed channel of Sonoita Creek, would likely wash out in the first few moderate stormflows, resulting in a much straighter, shorter stream. As a result, there would be less acreage of stream channel than promised for mitigation.”
Kondolf also criticized Hudbay’s latest plan because it fails to provide for any mitigation for the 8.9 acres of Sonoita Creek that would be destroyed. The creek is classified as a water of the U.S., meaning it falls under the Corp’s jurisdiction. Such waters cannot legally be destroyed without compensation elsewhere.
“The (plan) does not propose any mitigation for filling 8.9 acres of waters of the US in existing Sonoita Creek, apparently dismissing the value of Sonoita Creek by asserting that the stream is performing its functions “poorly”’, Kondolf states. “This unscientific assertion is not supported by any objective, quantitative assessment of “function” and is not justified.”
In 2016, Pima County, where the mine is located, formally requested that the Corps deny the 404 permit. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has also issued letters to the Corps stating that the mine project should not move forward because of the lack of adequate mitigation.
The 404 permit is the last major permit Hudbay needs before it can begin construction on the mine proposed to be built in the Santa Rita Mountains on the Coronado National Forest 30 miles southeast of Tucson.