PD will pay for arsenic treatment

At two new Community Water Co. wells serving the Green Valley area

By Tim Hull

© Green Valley News

Reprinted with permission of Green Valley News and Sun

GREEN VALLEY —Phelps Dodge will pay several million dollars to treat arsenic in two new Community Water Co. of Green Valley wells, the two companies announced.

The two new wells currently being constructed on the east side of Interstate 19 are expected to become permanent replacements for Community Water wells that had to be shut down last year because of sulfate contamination caused by seepage from the Sierrita Mine’s tailing impoundment west of Green Valley.

“Phelps Dodge has agreed to pay for any facilities necessary to treat naturally occurring arsenic at either of the two wells that will serve as a replacement water supply for Community Water’s customers,” said Community Water’s General Manager Art Gabaldon.

‘This is a substantial commitment on the part of Phelps Dodge, as the capital costs of arsenic treatment for just on well can exceed $1 million,” he added. All U.S. water companies must comply with new federal arsenic standards of 10 parts per billion by January 2006. As high sulfate levels in water make it more difficult and expensive to extract arsenic, the mining giant agreed that it was only fair that it pay for treatment costs at the new wells—even though the new, east-side wells have normal sulfate levels, said Phelps Dodge Corporate spokesmen Ken Vaughn.

“This is just one of the steps we’ll be taking to reach our goal of providing clean water to all the customers of Community Water,” Vaughn said, adding that it will cost the company an estimated $1.5 million each to build arsenic treatment plants at the new wells.

Arsenic occurs naturally in many Western aquifers. How much higher than 10 ppb the arsenic levels in the two new wells are is not yet known, but it’s anticipated that some treatment will be necessary. “We understand that something needs to be done, we’ve been working on it and we’re keeping working on it and we are going to resolve this to everybody’s satisfaction,” Vaughn said.

Two weeks ago, Community Water filed comments with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality requesting that state regulators put much tougher standards for secondary contaminants in the Sierrita Mine’s draft Aquifer Protection Permit (APP). But Gabaldon said this week that it’s not enough for the utility to rely on the state to fix the poor aesthetic qualities in the local water. “It would be unwise for Community Water to rely solely on the APP to protect our resources,” he said. “Community Water’s first priority is to reach an agreement with Phelps Dodge that will provide a permanent supply of clean, good quality water regardless of how the final permit is drafted.” Gabaldon said that the utility’s goal is to begin serving its customers with water from the two new wells by spring 2006.


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