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Tucson, CAP and Rosemont tangle over water storage

KOLD News 6-6:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Feb. 23, 2022 at 7:09 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Over the objections of the city of Tucson and several others in southern Arizona such as the Tohono O’odham nation, the Central Arizona Project Board approved an agreement which allows the Rosemont Copper Company (Hudbay),to store water at its storage facility on Pima Mine Road.

The water storage facility there is a 50-50 joint venture between the CAP and the city. However the city has the power to determine who stores water there and who doesn’t.

It’s called the “right of first refusal.” The city says it would never have allowed Rosemont to store water in the facility.

“We don’t want to do anything that benefits Rosemont,” said Ward 6 City Council member Steve Kozachik. “We simply don’t want them here. Period. Full stop.”

But Rosemont says because of the critical water situation in Arizona, the water storage should be welcomed.

The city doesn’t see it that way.

“We don’t want any part of Rosemont mine storing groundwater in our facility for a couple of reasons,” said Kozachik. “Number one we don’t want anything that benefits Rosemont mine but number two, we don’t want any polluted water going into that facility.”

Rosemont counters it’s not operating now so the water allocation would not polluted.

The city counters, since it’s a 10 year deal, the mine could be operational in a few years and then, yes, the water could be polluted.

The CAP board, in making the decision, said even with the deal for Rosemont, the city still has the option of the right of first refusal. It said it’s not up to the board to determine winners and losers.

“That would be unprecedented, we’ve never done that and it would be this board picking winners and losers as far as water storage goes,” said Greg Adams, an attorney for the board. “We have not done in the past.”

But in this case, the city believes it did.

“Frankly the CAP board inserted themselves into a political situation where they should have said no, the city of Tucson is a joint user in this thing and we, the CAP board should have to defer to them,” Kozachik said. “It’s that deference that they failed to do.”

Rosemont has been trying to open the copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains for the past 15 years and is awaiting a decision from the 9th Circuit Court which could move it in that direction.

Rosemont told the board before its January 6th decision, that the city has only one way to block the storage.

“If you approve this storage agreement and the city chooses to block us by exercising their right of first refusal it can only do that by filing up the entire capacity of the recharge facility,” said Matt Bingham, an attorney for Rosemont. “Historically, there has been unused capacity there.”

The city says it’s a strategy it’s contemplating by bringing in water from other storage facilities but is also considering legal action against the CAP board.

The city was scheduled to make a decision today but Tucson City Attorney Mike Rankin asked for a delay. No new meeting has been scheduled yet.

Rosemont told the CAP board on January 6th, that it’s decision to allow it to store water in the facility would not affect it’s ability to get the necessary permits to open the mine.

“The opposition you’ve heard today is based entirely on the idea that approving this storage agreement somehow facilitates construction of the mine,” Bingham said. “That is simply not the case.”

Still, Tucson has taken a stand against it.

“Once a storage permit is issued, should the board decide to do that, the city of Tucson Mayor and Council have made it clear that we intend to exercise our right of first refusal to prevent Rosemont from storing in that facility,” said Chris Avery, a city of Tucson water attorney.

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