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Here’s what Nye County just did in response to ‘grave concerns’ about water

Updated June 5, 2024 - 9:05 am

The Nye County Commission expressed its reservations about mining claims around the town of Amargosa Valley on Tuesday, unanimously approving a letter of support for a petition that could ease residents’ groundwater concerns.

A coalition of town governments, local residents, the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe and the nonprofit Amargosa Conservancy have been fighting against what could result in exploratory drilling by Rover Critical Minerals, a Canadian mining company.

The company quietly staked its claims to about 400 five-acre parcels near homes and local businesses in May — something that raised alarm bells about the groundwater on which residents and dozens of species rely.

Some community members saw the move as retaliation after the Bureau of Land Management revoked the company’s earlier permits to conduct drilling around the Ash Meadows Wildlife Refuge following a lawsuit from the Amargosa Conservancy last year.

“In light of the community’s grave concerns over the future of their water security as well as potential impacts to wildlife and natural resources in the iconic landscapes of Ash Meadows, Death Valley and the Amargosa River, our coalition is seeking urgent action to protect wildlife and water rights holders in this corner of Nye County,” said Mason Voehl, executive director of the Amargosa Conservancy.

The mining company did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday but in past statements has downplayed any risk to local groundwater.

Interior secretary to decide

The petition involves a request for an administrative mineral withdrawal, which would halt any new mining claims from being established on federally owned land within the proposed boundaries. It wouldn’t affect claims already made but could prevent exploratory drilling.

Either Congress or the interior secretary can initiate a federal environmental review that would determine whether a mineral withdrawal would be necessary.

As of now, the coalition is seeking support from local governments like Nye County to encourage the Southern Nevada BLM office to petition Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to commence the review. So far, it has earned approval from the Nye County Water District Governing Board and the town boards of Beatty and Amargosa Valley.

A spokesperson from the Southern Nevada BLM office, which likely would be involved in petitioning Haaland, said the agency could not provide comment before publication.

Carolyn Allen, Amargosa Valley town board chair, told commissioners that any threat to domestic wells that pump groundwater could force people out of her town.

“If lithium mining became a reality at Ash Meadows, it would simply create another ghost town in Nevada,” she said.

Earlier in the day, Allen and Voehl spoke to the state Legislature’s standing natural resources committee about the topic.

Nye County Commissioner Bruce Jabbour, who represents Amargosa Valley, said the mineral withdrawal is critical to the future of Ash Meadows. Water should belong to residents, not corporations, he said.

“The people have the rights first before this or any other company wants to come in and drill,” Jabbour said.

Contact Alan at ahalaly@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlanHalaly on X.

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