Summary of promises from Phelps Dodge
for temporary wells in Green Valley

October 2003 to June 2005, exactly 20 months

[Note:  Most recent date first]

Replacement wells now in service
June 15, 2005  by Tim Hull

GREEN VALLEY--Three wells owned by the Phelps Dodge Sierrita Mine finally began providing water to Community Water customers early this month.

The wells are meant as a temporary replacement for two Community Water wells contaminated with high levels of sulfates seeping into the groundwater from the Sierrita Mine's tailings impoundment.

Phelps Dodge and Community Water reached an agreement on the wells June 1.

Community Water began hooking-up to the wells in February, but it took several months to bring the water in them up to the utility's standards, said Art Gabaldon, general manager of the water company.

GV water firm will hook up to three new wells this week
Feb 16, 2005 by Tim Hull

GREEN VALLEY--Three new wells meant to temporarily replace two Community Water Company wells contaminated with high levels of sulfates and total dissolved solids are expected to be hooked-up by the end of the week, a Community Water supervisor said Tuesday.

"There's a lot of other stuff that needs to be taken care of before they're operational, but the connection will be done by the end of the week," said Distribution Supervisor Lonnie Gant, who worked with two construction crews out of Tucson installing pipes and other hardware for the wells Tuesday.

January 1, 2005: Phelps Dodge registered 26 additional lobbyist (including their COO and Sierrita Environmental Coordinator with the Arizona Secretary of Statefor a grand total of 40 lobbyists in Arizona. 

December 1, 2004

But Phelps Dodge's Vaughn said that a short-term, temporary solution is still in the works.

He said that Phelps Dodge is still working on a plan to connect one of the wells with low sulfate levels at the mine's Esperanza Well Field to the Community Water system by the first quarter of 2005. . . .

Vaughn said that the mine will file for permits within the next few weeks that will allow them to hook their well into Community Water's system.

But the only long-term permanent solution to the problem is to construct a new well outside of the reach of the sulfate plume, he said.

And it appears that all parties agree that it will be another year until that happens.

Water Company Still Dogged by High Sulfate
July 30, 2004 by Tim Hull

"In the short-term we want to pump water from one of our existing well fields (and take the offending Community Water wells out of commission); that would greatly reduce the level of sulfates," said Bruce Richardson, a Phelps Dodge Corp. spokesman.
"We are hoping that we can get that done as soon as possible, and it is a priority to us, but it is not a completely simple situation....."

Letter from Nancy Freeman to Eric Wilson, Mining Supervisor, Department of Environment Quality.

June 8, 2004

Dear Eric Wilson,

Currently, we are in an emergency situation here in Green Valley. The Phelps-Dodge Sierrita Copper mine has been operating at 50% capacity. Now, due to the rise in the price of copper, the mine is gearing up to operate at 100% capacity. As you can see by the latest statistics on the attached tables, the TDS has reached 900 mg/l and the sulfate has topped over 500 mg/l. The numbers have been escalating at a rate of 100 mg/l per year for TDS and 50 mg/l per year for sulfate. The level of some of the regulated inorganics have also been increasing somewhat. If these numbers start doubling, we could have a dire situation. I want to know if you can do anything to expedite this situation.

I am a private citizen, living in Green Valley. A year ago I went to the annual meeting of my local “member-owned” water company, Community Water Company, to find out why I had such horrifically hard water when my neighbors two miles down the road did not. After careful research in tabulating the hardness, TDS and sulfate level of all of the wells from the three water companies that serve Green Valley, I found there were only two wells (7 & 8) that had these high readings, both in Community Water service district. I found that not only were these readings high, but they were escalating yearly. Those two wells were located on the west side of the Santa Cruz aquifer, near the mine, so it did not take a genius to figure the source. . . .

I am told that the paperwork could be another six months before anything happens on this project. Again, I am asking for assistance to expedite this situation.

I do realize that we need an overall plan and assessment to protect this important water source. Although hardness, TDS and Sulfate do not fall in the regulated categories, I personally think that there is a health issue, particularly since we are dealing with an elderly population. One gentleman that comes for the winter reported that he gets sick every time he is here. Some testing has been done, but the tests were not of such a high readings, were not over a prolonged period of time, and were not specifically in an elderly community.

I can assure you that none of the employees at the Community Water Company are drinking the water. Like myself, they have purchased reverse osmosis filtering systems. The economic impact on this community is considerable. The cost of installation and maintenance of softeners and filters can be a problem for some of the population, in particular the population that is served by wells 7 & 8 because it is the older, lower income area of Green Valley. I have to have my reverse osmosis filter serviced every six months instead of every year ($95 each service call). Having to replace appliances that use water before their normal life expectancy is another expense. If the situation continues at a double rate, so that the aquifer is further contaminated, it will certainly affect the property values here. . . .

As you see by the attached Tables, the problem has been escalating since 1996. I have a copy of a report, Green Valley Water Company Designation of Assured Water Supply Hydrologic Study, dated January, 1996 by the Environmental Resource Consultants. In part the report reads,

Within the GVWC Service Area, the two primary pumping wells GV-1 and GV-2, meet all primary drinking standards as shown by water quality samples in Appendix E. TDS averaged 380 mg/l for recent 1994 samples for these wells. These wells lie hydraulically upgradient from the Cyprus Sierrita Tailing Ponds, and currently do not appear to be influenced by recharge of mineralized tailing pond water with elevated TDS and sulfate. [my emphasis]

So in the inner circles, it has been a known fact. I feel that this is truly an opportunity for the government to protect the public. The elderly adult population here seems to have faith that the government will take care of everything.

I have attached the files for the data on Wells 7 & 8. Also for comparison, I have included data on Well 6, which is located on the east side of the Aquifer, out of the influence of the “plume”—but not totally, as you will see by the test results for sulfate and TDS.

I hope to hear from you soon with a plan by which you can assist with getting us decent water on a short term basis, and protecting this water source on a long term basis.


Nancy Freeman

Attachments:  Tables of water quality for Wells 6, 7 & 8, Community Water Co.     

cc:       Jim DuBois, Arizona DEQ, Tucson office

            Mike Redmond, Pima County DEQ

            Eric Shepp, Pima County DEQ

            David Amash, Pima County DEQ

            Greg Hess, Water Quality Planning Manager,

                        Pima Association of Governments

            Arturo Gabaldon, Manager, Community Water Co.

            Alan McDonald, Green Valley Coordinating Council

            Mike Wood, Phelps-Dodge Sierrita Mine, Environmental Coordinator

May 14, 2004:

"In the short-term we want to pump water from one of our existing well fields (and take the offending Community Water wells out of commission); that would greatly reduce the level of sulfates," said Bruce Richardson, a Phelps Dodge Corp. spokesman.

"We are hoping that we can get that done as soon as possible, and it is a priority to us, but it is not a completely simple situation."

Richardson said that state and county water regulations contribute greatly to the uncertainty surrounding a possible solution to the issue.

As for a long-term solution, Richardson said that Phelps Dodge and Community Water are working on it but have yet to come up with one.

High Levels of Sulfate detected in two Wells
October 8, 2003 by Tim Hull

"Seeping for decades: Mike Wood, of the Phelps Dodge Sierrita Environmental Department, said Friday that the mining concern recognizes that sulfates have been seeping into the groundwater in western Green Valley "for decades."
"When you have tailings, there is really no way around having a high concentration of sulfates," Wood said...."

One solution, Wood said, is for PD to find higher quality water in its own wells and make it available to Community Water to put into service. The other option is for PD to install a new well for Community Water outside the impacted area, Wood said.

Both options could be a long time coming, however, as water regulation in Arizona is typically a long and Byzantine process.

"We are pursuing this with all due speed," Wood said Friday. "But there is a lot of regulation involved; this will take us several months to work through..."