The Salt River above Granite Reef Dam
A Maricopa Audubon Society Success Story
This proposed site of the Orme Dam would have flooded miles of critical riparian habitat on the Salt and Verde Rivers. Today, it is home to desert-nesting Bald Eagles and hundreds of other species of birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians, arthropods, and plants that depend on this endangered riverine ecosystem. Maricopa Audubon was instrumental in stopping the dam project. In the background is Red (Sawik) Mountain, on lands of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.
Oak Flat and the Proposed Resolution Copper Mine
This proposed block cave copper mine threatens camping, climbing and recreation resources near Superior. The mine would collapse the land under Oak Flat, sacred to the San Carlos Apaches, and, as presently proposed, cover hundreds of acres near the Boyce Thompson Arboretum with mine tailings. With allies such as the Arizona Mining Reform Coalition and the San Carlos Apache Tribe, MAS sued the Forest Service in 2016, seeking more scrutiny of Resolution Copper Company’s (RCC) plans to dump tailings on Forest Service land. MAS and others filed an appeal of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality’s renewal of RCC’s permit to discharge into Queen Creek.
Arizona’s Groundwater Management Act allows counties to opt into a requirement that new developments will receive permits only if they can demonstrate a 100 year supply of water. Cochise and Yuma counties opted into this provision.
MAS Vice President Robin Silver and others sued concerning a project near the San Pedro River, arguing that Arizona state agencies did not enforce the requirement properly. Arizona trial and appeal courts have accepted Robin Silver and the other plaintiffs’ position. The Arizona Supreme Court heard the case March 8, and its decision is pending.
Meanwhile, proposed developments in Cochise and Yuma counties risk rejection because of enforcement. Consequently, development interests are seeking help elsewhere.
In 2017, the Legislature gutted the 100 year rule, but Governor Ducey, after lobbying from Audubon Arizona’s WRAN, MAS and others vetoed the bill. It’s back this year, with revisions designed to soften the true intent.
Under the proposed bill, County Boards of Supervisors can end the 100 year supply rule for new developments if the county promotes water conservation in other ways. Committee hearings in the Senate revealed widespread opposition and not just from environmental groups.
As a practical matter, the rule does more for consumer protection, assuring homebuyers that they will have water, than for aquifers. Obviously, existing homeowners who bought with the 100 year guarantee will lose their protection if new developments can tap the same groundwater without restriction. Consumer, environmental and some agricultural groups, therefore, opposed the effort.
A couple weeks ago it appeared the attempt was dead for this year. Now, however, the legislation (SB 1515) has passed the Senate. House committee hearings (HB 2553) are scheduled for early April.
Delegation of Federal Authority to ADEQ
The EPA wishes to push authority for certain programs onto the states. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality plans to cooperate.
In December, 2017 ADEQ announced that it would sponsor bills to allow it, instead of the Army Corps of Engineers and EPA, to grant 404 permits to fill wetlands under the Clean Water Act. EPA also sought to delegate, and ADEQ sought to obtain, authority to approve underground injection wells under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
In March, 2018, ADEQ held a public meeting to discuss a third delegation, of authority over rules governing retention of coal ash and other dangerous residues from coal-fired utilities. The rule affects only four utilities in Arizona, but the sites subject to the rules are massive. Unplanned releases of coal ash have caused massive problems in other states.
404 Clean Water Act permits can be critical during environmental disputes. Problems obtaining 404 permits have hamstrung plans for both the Rosemont Mine near Tucson and the Vigneto 27,000 home project near Benson. The other rules affect fewer but still important facilities.
ADEQ has no budget for this work and, unlike EPA, must fund it entirely from permit fees. Nevertheless, at the public meetings devoted to these proposed changes, utilities and developers were unified in their enthusiasm for ADEQ to assume these new responsibilities.
Consumer and conservation groups were united in opposition. It is ironic that conservation interests favor leaving enforcement in the hands of the current EPA. However, the risk of local pressure on ADEQ, its budget constraints, and the difficulty of finding qualified staff argue against delegating these tasks to ADEQ.