Sharon Delgado and Dianna Suarez: Water more precious than gold
Even in the wake of the tremendous losses locally caused by the River Fire — as heat waves, wildfires, drought and smoke devastate Northern California — Rise Gold continues to inflate the economic benefits of reopening the Idaho-Maryland Mine.
While the CEO claims that the silent majority supports it, those of us who are studying plans for the mine see many negative impacts. One significant and irreversible impact could be the depletion of our region’s groundwater, which could add to growing water scarcity and rising water prices in this time of climate change — just when we need to conserve water most.
How can we calculate the value of water against the value of gold? Gold is a commodity. Gold prices are high right now, tempting speculators from out of the area who want to profit by extracting both gold and profits. Neither would stay in our community.
On the other hand, while water is often treated as a commodity, under natural law water is a right given to all people and all parts of creation to sustain life. “Water is life.”
Yet fresh water is becoming scarcer … and more expensive. According to NID documents, an acre foot of untreated water varies in price but averages from $50 to $70 locally. The Sacramento Bee reports that Sacramento area water agencies are selling water to Southern California at $700 per acre foot.
How much is an acre foot of water? It is a volume of water the size of an acre, 1 foot deep. One million gallons of water equals 3.07 acre feet.
As we live through another drought, with the value of water rapidly increasing, dewatering local groundwater to reopen the Idaho-Maryland Mine might mean loss of economic and ecological value to our community.
Using simple math, we can roughly estimate the economic value of groundwater slated for extraction. According to Rise Gold’s Technical Report, beginning mine operations would require draining the mine shaft by pumping out 2,500 acre feet of groundwater (81,433,250 gallons). Based on current NID prices, this means discharging between $125,000 and $175,000 worth of water down Wolf Creek into Bear River during the first six months of operation (2,500 acre feet x $50 to $70).
Then, to keep the mine shaft clear, inflow of groundwater to the mine shaft, estimated at 1,375 acre feet (44,788,287 gallons) per year, would have to be pumped out continually. The next six months would see $34,300 to $48,000 down the creek and then between $68,600 and $96,000 would flow down the creek annually (1,372 acre feet x $50-$70). Within 10 years, close to 500 million gallons of water, worth a whopping $776,700 to $1,087,400, could be lost to our community — a million dollars’ worth of precious water down the creek in the first decade!
This would go on for the next 70 years thereafter. Billions of gallons of water, worth millions, would be dumped down the creek and out of our community.
Meanwhile, community members whose wells are dewatered would pay ever-increasing rates for NID-treated water instead of drawing water out of their own wells, water that has been cleansed by Mother Nature as it percolates down to underground aquifers. (NID rates for treated drinking water during this drought vary from $.0039 per gallon for the first 500 cubic foot of water and $.0049 per each additional gallon, which adds up to between $1,270 and $1,596 per acre foot.)
Another fun fact: In only 35 years Rise Gold would dewater and discharge enough water down Wolf Creek to fill Scotts Flat Reservoir to capacity.
We must also consider the ecological value of groundwater lost due to the mine. We don’t see groundwater, so why does it need to be recharged? According to the U.S. Geological Survey: “As part of the water cycle, groundwater is a major contributor to flow in many streams and rivers and has a strong influence on river and wetland habitats for plants and animals. People have been using groundwater for thousands of years and continue to use it today, largely for drinking water and irrigation. Life on Earth depends on groundwater, just as it does on surface water.”
According to NID’s website: “Nevada Irrigation District encourages wise use of water. Conservation and water use efficiency is important to preserving our precious water resources. Water is needed for drinking water, household use, growing food, commercial and industrial uses, groundwater recharge and the environment.”
Rise Gold’s plan is the reverse of recharging groundwater. Draining groundwater could deplete our aquifers, which would otherwise provide well water and contribute to supplying our local lakes, creeks, ponds, wildlife, trees, and vegetation with the water they need to thrive.
Nevada County has been a water-rich area, with lakes, rivers and creeks contributing to its natural beauty and abundance of wildlife.
But our shrinking snowpack, historically low reservoirs, record-breaking heat, smoke-filled skies, and parched lands and forests make clear that times are changing.
Future climate projections are dire. Let us not compound these problems locally by letting Rise Gold extract and waste our valuable groundwater. Water is more precious than gold.
Sharon Delgado lives in Nevada City. Dianna Suarez lives in Colfax.
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“You’ve heard me say this before: Every acre can and will burn someday in this state” — Cal Fire Director Thom Porter.