Asarco Taking Steps To Protect Watershed

Heavy rain from Hurricane Odile has caused two abandoned mines to spill orange sludge into waterways that lead to the popular Patagonia Lake in southern Arizona. The acid mine drainage (AMD) was first spotted in September.

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has issued a violation to an Asarco trust that owns the Trench Camp Mine near Patagonia, Arizona. The trust plans on following the state’s requirements to stop the runoff and take steps to prevent further water contamination.

The contaminated water is in areas that lead to Sonoita Creek, which leads to Patagonia Lake–a popular attraction. Initial tests showed that the water had unsafe levels of pH, but more tests are pending.

A resident near the town of Patagonia noticed the sludge at the end of September, first at the Lead Queen Mine and later at the Trench Camp one, said Wendy Russell, coordinator for the Patagonia Area Resource Alliance. Both waterways lead to Sonoita Creek, which runs off into Patagonia Lake, the site of the state park.

“This is an ongoing hazard to our community’s water supply,” Russell said, adding that Patagonia Lake State Park is a tourist attraction. “Folks fish and swim there.”

The Lead Queen Mine ended operations in the 1940s. Trench Camp closed in the 1960s. Since then, Arizona has taken Asarco to court to get the company to invest in cleanup efforts at its shuttered mines around the state. The parties settled in 2009, and $2.85 million was allocated to cleaning up Trench Camp and another mine.

Russell said not enough has been done to ensure the sites are free of any toxic materials that could leak into the area’s water supply.

“There’s been minimal efforts to clean them up, and we just witnessed what happens when they don’t get cleaned up properly,” she said.

Other parts of the southern part of the state have been affected by the hurricane that damaged the Baja California peninsula.

Last month, a copper mine in Sonora, Mexico, spilled into a water supply that leads to the San Pedro River. However, tests revealed the San Pedro River had not been contaminated.

polluted mine water

Acid mine drainage is one of the greatest environmental impacts caused by the mining industry. Abandoned mines are especially vulnerable to spills. In 1992, a cyanide spill from the Summitville Mine in southern Colorado killed all life in a 17-mile stretch of the Alamosa River. In 1999, the state filed suit over the cleanup, which is expected to cost at least $170 million. It’s one of Colorado’s worst environmental disasters.


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