Tuesday, October 15, 2019

ARCO v. Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (Cal. Ct. App. - Oct. 15, 2019)

Justice Butz begins this published-today opinion by saying:  "The storied history of mining in California has adverse consequences, among them the discharge of toxic residues from mining sites."  And she's not kidding.

We're litigating in this case who's responsible for the adverse environmental consequences of a mine -- at one point, the largest copper mine in California -- that was opened over a century ago, in 1909.  A long time ago.

And those consequences are severe.  "The mine has 13 miles of flooded underground workings, comprising a total void volume estimated at 543 million gallons. The mine openings and tailings on the site discharge soluble copper and acidic mine drainage into surface waters, at times eliminating aquatic life 10 miles downstream from the mine. In 1987, the Water Board installed a concrete plug at a mine opening that was a primary source of mine leakage, which has eliminated most of the direct discharge but is causing a buildup of contaminated water inside the mine that is leaching into groundwater, and the mining waste on the surface also continues to be a source of water pollution."


We don't do as nearly much of this type of mining these days.  Too many regulations (or, if you take a different view, just the right amount, or even too few.)  The downside is that we have less copper, and rely on other countries.  The upside is that you have less sulfuric and other acids in your water, and don't have 13 miles of flooded, empty mine shafts.

A classic policy choice.