As some of you may have heard, the Lisbon Valley Mining Company has applied to the Utah Division of Water Quality for a permit to use in-situ type mining in Lower Lisbon Valley. This in-situ process is a way to extract copper or other minerals out of an underground aquifer by injecting sulfuric acid into the aquifer. The acid is then pumped back out and the solution goes through a mill to extract the copper, and the acid is pumped back into the aquifer.
This is the same aquifer that my parents, Mike and Joan Wilcox, drink from and water their livestock with. Scott and Julie Stevenson live next to my parents and also drink from a well. They operate the 3-Step Hideaway, a wonderful bed and breakfast that hosts guests from around the world.
To get this permit, the EPA has to grant an aquifer exemption because the aquifer will be contaminated. When I first heard about this I thought: “There is no way this will ever happen. Surely the Division of Water Quality or the EPA will not let them poison our drinking water.” Boy was I wrong! The more I find out about this process, the more I am recognizing that the Division of Water Quality and the EPA’s decisions have almost nothing to do with environmental, social, or economic risks, water protection regulations, laws, or even common sense, and everything to do with public perception and political priorities.
We live in a desert. Water is our most precious resource. We must protect it from being contaminated or depleted. In San Juan and Grand counties, it is against the law to water our lawns with graywater from our homes. How is it that a copper mine can inject acid into our drinking water? The same copper mine that has not paid taxes to the county since 2014 (over $2 million worth), and shut down in March of this year due to lack of funding. They could not even make payroll to pay their employees. Why would the Division of Water Quality and the EPA trust this complicated in-situ process to a company with such a poor financial track record? Some day the copper mine will be gone, but the mess they leave will last forever.
If you would like to find out more about this process you can visit the Utah Division of Water Quality’s website: www.deq.utah.gov/division-water-quality. If you would like to help us protect drinking water in southeastern Utah, I encourage you to send your questions and comments to Drummond Earley at email@example.com. Comments must be submitted no later than Jan. 11, 2021.
[Per a state law change this year, graywater use is not illegal but is regulated. – pub.]