Water is a scarce and precious asset, particularly in the western United States where the demand for freshwater is far out-pacing the supply. In order to access clean water, western states are proposing extraordinary investments, ranging from plans to spend $15 billion to transport water across the state of Nevada, to ideas for a pipeline from the Missouri River to Denver to offset the loss of water from the Colorado River, which in turn is struggling to provide water to seven states.
In the midst of declining fresh water supplies, an increasing number of hard rock mining companies are generating water pollution that will last for hundreds or thousands of years and new projects are on the horizon. Perpetual management of mines is a rapidly escalating national dilemma.
Our research shows, for the first time, the staggering amount of our nation’s water supplies that are perpetually polluted by mining.
A lengthy review of government documents reveals that an estimated 17 to 27 billion gallons of polluted water will be generated by forty mines each year, every year, in perpetuity. This is equivalent to the amount of water in 2 trillion water bottles – enough to stretch from the earth to the moon and back 54 times.
Perpetual pollution from metal mines has contaminated drinking water aquifers, created long-standing public health risks, and destroyed fish and wildlife and their habitat. The primary cause of this lasting pollution – acid mine drainage – is well understood. Yet, no hard rock open pit mines exist today that can demonstrate that acid mine drainage can be stopped once it occurs on a large scale.