/ Modified jun 13, 2024 8:10 p.m.

Conservation groups threaten legal action over Pinto Valley Mine expansion

Sierra Club and Maricopa Audubon Society claim violations of the Endangered Species Act, citing risks to wildlife and water resources.

Roosevelt Lake Looking east across Roosevelt Lake in Central Arizona.
AC Swedbergh / AZPM

Conservation groups filed a notice-of-intent to sue the U.S. Forest Service (Forest Service) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), for approving expanded operations for the Pinto Valley Mine, a copper mine located in Gila County, east of Phoenix.

The Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club and Maricopa Audubon Society argue that the federal agencies violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for approving expanded operations for the mine.

In a letter addressed to Neil Bosworth, forest supervisor for Tonto National Forest, and Jeffrey A. Humphrey, field supervisor for FWS, attorneys for the groups argue that both agencies committed three legal errors in determining the expansion of the mine’s operations without harming the western yellow-billed cuckoo, southwestern willow flycatcher and their habitats.

The mine plan of operations was approved in 2021, allowing expanded operations through 2039.

Earjustice attorney Tom Delehanty said that since a change in the mine’s ownership, Pinto Creek, a tributary of the Salt River that supports endangered species, has run dry in its perennial reaches.

“In the arid southwest, water is such a scarce and precious resource that mining operations like anything else, need to be done in a responsible way that accounts for environmental impacts,” Delehanty said.

The attorney added that groups are concerned about the effects of climate change.

“In Arizona, it’s really important to consider how groundwater pumping will combine with reductions in precipitation to affect the creek and the agencies really didn’t do that,” Delehanty said.

During the agencies’ decision-making process, Phoenix-area utility Salt River Project made objections to the proposal arguing that the mine’s water pumping would reduce inflows downstream at Roosevelt Lake and impact water stakeholders.

Pinto Creek flows into Roosevelt Lake, a municipal water source for the Phoenix area.

“SRP was identifying similar concerns that we are, which is that the mine is sucking water out of this drainage that ultimately feeds Phoenix’s water,” Delehanty said.

Conservation groups will pursue litigation if concerns are not remedied within 60 days.

“Mining needs to be done responsibly and we hope that by sending this letter and if needed, filing a lawsuit that we can ensure that the environment is taken into consideration properly and that endangered species are protected,” Delehanty said.

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