Mine officials respond to water issues
SHAFTER – The Rio Grande Mining Company (RGMC) has responded to questions regarding a Presidio County Underground Water Conservation District meeting that took place August 15.
RGMC, under the Aurcana Corporation of Canada, is a silver mining concern operating in Shafter.
During the water board meeting last week, Cibolo Creek Ranch owner and RGMC neighbor John B. Poindexter raised concerns over the mining company’s planned discharge of underground water and the possible environmental and economic impacts of releasing large amounts of water.
Below are a series of questions from Big Bend Now (BBN) and the responses from RGMC.
BBN: Mr. Poindexter said during the meeting that Rio Grande Mining Company is going to void about one million gallons of water per day into a dry creek. Is this true? If not, what is the amount of underground water to be discharged from the mine and where will it be released?
RGMC: No. The 1.08 million gallons per day that Mr. Poindexter incorrectly characterized as the amount that we will discharge into a dry creek is actually the maximum legal limit that we are allowed to discharge on a daily basis. However, our permit also includes an average daily discharge limit of 360,000 gallons. So, while we could legally discharge 1.08 million gallons on one day, we must maintain an average discharge at or below 360,000 gallons per day. There will be many days where no water is discharged. The water that we are allowed to discharge is water that naturally seeps into the mine tunnels that must be removed to assure worker safety.
BBN: Mr. Poindexter told water board members that he, an attorney, Drew Miller, and an engineer, James Beach, approached Rio Grande Mining Company to conduct a water analysis to study the potential effects of the silver mine’s withdrawal of such a large amount of water and that the proposal was rejected by your company. On what grounds was the proposal rejected, if any, and has a similar study been conducted by Rio Grande Mining Company or any other private or public entity as to the potential effects, environmental or otherwise, to the area near the silver mine?
RGMC: The Rio Grande Mining Company understands that landowners may be concerned about the effects of mining operations on groundwater supplies. In an effort to demonstrate that mining operations will not adversely affect groundwater supplies, the Rio Grande Mining Company mailed letters to all adjacent landowners requesting their permission to allow our hydrogeologist to take water quality samples, water well levels and spring flows. Of course, any such sampling or testing would be done with the landowner or the landowner’s representatives on hand. To date Mr. Poindexter has refused our proposal.
BBN: If underground water is to be discharged for mine production purposes, will it be recycled? If so, how much will be recycled and how? Are there other plans for the use of water, a reservoir perhaps?
RGMC: Absolutely. Rio Grande Mining Company recognizes the value of our area water resources and plans to beneficially use water that seeps into its mine tunnels for mining operations. Water that is not immediately used for mining operations will be stored for future use to the extent possible.
BBN: How many water wells are located on Rio Grande Mining Company’s property, and what are their production rates? Do you have meters on the wells?
RGMC: Currently, we have one groundwater well on the property that supplies potable water to both the town of Shafter and the mine. However, this well is near the projected path of mining. Therefore, in the near future, we plan to drill a new well to provide the potable water allowing the old well to be plugged.
BBN: Just for clarification, why does water need to be pumped out or withdrawn in the first place?
RGMC: Rio Grande Mining Company’s concern is safety for our workers. If we do not control the water seeping into the mine tunnels, our employees cannot safely work in the tunnels and recover the minerals. Water has been seeping into the tunnels since 1942 when the last active mining operations took place. We will pump out the water currently in the tunnels and continue pumping any water that seeps into the tunnels in order to have a safe work environment. Most of the water that is not used for mining operations will be stored for future use. The water that cannot be stored will be discharged into a dry arroyo; this water will then soak into the ground and recharge the area along its pathway.
RGMC commented further in an email this week:
“Rio Grande Mining owns the land on and under which we are mining. As with other businesses in the area, such as ranching, motels, dude ranches or farming (tomato farms), we want and intend to be good neighbors, protect our natural resources, comply with regulatory standards and, hopefully make a profit. The magnitude of the business may be greater than most but so are the costs.
“We are currently the largest employer in Presidio County, also the largest taxpayer. We intend to always pay our fair share and, when fully in production, that share will grow significantly. We have made it our practice to use local businesses and contractors whenever possible. We support the communities we live in. Generally, for every job in mining, five jobs are created in the surrounding communities to support the mining operations.
“Although the silver mine has been here for over a hundred years, mining operations are relative new to the current residents of the County. As with any new operation of this size and kind, there are questions and some misinformation. For example, there are not large veins of silver and gold. Also, Rio Grande Mining does not store or intend to store silver and gold at the mine.
“Finally, we are not wasting, nor will we waste, millions of gallons of water per day or pollute the area’s valuable water resources or environment. Since the 1970s, a number of new, more stringent, regulations and laws have been passed to make sure that mining operations do not harm the environment and insure the safety of their workers. We are regulated by TCEQ, EPA, MSHA and many other regulatory agencies. We are regularly inspected. The state and federal governmental agencies are very capable of monitoring our activities and they take that role very seriously. Rio Grande Mining is committed to being a good business, a good neighbor and valuable addition to the community where we and our employees live and work.”
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