Pima County is sharply criticizing Hudbay Minerals for lobbying state environmental officials to review the standards used to designate Outstanding Arizona Waters (OAW) protections for 22 Arizona creeks and streams, including two waterways comprising the Cienega Creek watershed that could be negatively impacted by its proposed Rosemont copper mine.
The OAW designation is crucial because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has told Hudbay that its application for a Clean Water Act permit needed to build the $1.9 billion mine is in jeopardy because of the mine’s negative impacts on Davidson Canyon, which is classified as an Outstanding Arizona Water.
State waterways that are listed as an OAW are provided the highest levels of protection under the Clean Water Act. Davidson Canyon drains into Cienega Creek, which is also protected as an OAW. Davidson Canyon was designated an OAW in December 2008 after the Pima Association of Governments passed a resolution supporting the protection.
Former Arizona Department of Environmental Quality Director Steve Owens hailed the listing of Davidson Canyon along with Fossil Creek as Outstanding Arizona Waters.
“These standards are long overdue and are absolutely essential to protect Arizona’s precious water resources,” said Director Owens. “The people of this state deserve clean water in our rivers, lakes and streams.”
But nine years later, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry believes Hudbay is laying the groundwork for the ADEQ to remove Davidson Canyon from the OAW list.
“This thinly disguised attempt by Hudbay to reverse the longstanding designation of Davidson Canyon as an OAW should be summarily rejected as a self-serving gesture to facilitate pollution of Arizona’s surface waters,” Huckelberry wrote in a June 29 letter to the ADEQ.
“We will vigorously oppose any attempt to remove Davidson Canyon from the present list of OAW in order to facilitate reduced water quality standards,” Huckelberry concluded.
Save the Scenic Santa Ritas, a Tucson-based citizens group opposed to the Rosemont mine, said Hudbay’s effort to strip OAW protections from any Arizona waterway currently protected should be rejected.
“The notion of dispensing with Outstanding Water designations so that hard rock mining, with all its negative impacts, can be made easier is outrageous,” SSSR President Gayle Hartmann states in a July 5 letter to ADEQ.
The ADEQ director, through a specific rule, designates which waterways are listed as Outstanding Arizona Waters. Perennial and intermittent waterways can be classified as an OAW, according to state regulations. (See R18-11-112. Outstanding Arizona Waters)
Hudbay, in a Jan. 10 letter to the ADEQ, requested that the “department undertake a review of both the rulemaking and listing process, as well as the historical water quality data underlying those rulemakings, that resulted in the listing of each of the Arizona Surface Waters classified as Outstanding Arizona Waters over the years.”
The letter, sent by Hudbay’s environmental director Kathy Arnold, also requested the department to “include in its review an evaluation of stormwater runoff contributions to intermittent and perennial waters.”
The department immediately responded to Hudbay’s request with a Jan. 11 letter to Arnold stating “we appreciate your interest” and that it would include Hudbay’s request to review the rulemaking and listing process in its triennial review of Arizona surface water quality standards that is underway.
The department’s letter also suggests that the ADEQ is looking at revising the OAW designations based on the amount of water contributed by runoff from storms. Spring fed Davidson Canyon receives much of its water from storm runoff.
“We are interested in providing clarity to areas of the OAW listing process that are ambiguous, including the evaluation of stormwater runoff contributions to intermittent and perennial waters,” Trevor Baggiore, director of ADEQ’s Water Quality Division, stated in the letter.
The Army Corps informed Hudbay last Dec. 28 that its Section 404 Clean Water Act permits was in jeopardy. In a detailed letter, the Corps stated that its district office recommended denial of the 404 permit in July 2016 because the construction of the mine would “cause or contribute to violations of state water quality standards” and the project would contribute to “degradation of Outstanding Arizona Waters.”
The district office also stated that the Rosemont mine “would be contrary to the public interest” because of “adverse effects to cultural resources and traditional cultural properties important to tribes.”
The Army Corps regional office is reviewing Hudbay’s 404 permit application and has not given any indication of when a decision will be made.
The ADEQ, meanwhile, has determined that the Rosemont mine would not violate state water quality standards and issued Hudbay a state certification required under section 401 of the Clean Water Act. Pima County is challenging the state’s 401 certification in a lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court.
Huckelberry stated in a May 5 letter to the Army Corps and the Region IX office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the federal government should not issue a 404 permit that is based on a “legally and technically flawed” 401 certification issued by the state.
“Pima County asserts ADEQ violated Arizona law because the conditions included in the Section 401 Water Quality Certification are derived from information (Rosemont’s Surface Water Mitigation Plan) submitted to ADEQ after the close of the public comment period,” Huckelberry’s May 5 letter stated.