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Wells and Groundwater Public Comments


CEA Foundation, San Juan Ridge Taxpayers Association, and The Wells Coalition (a group of well owners near the Idaho-Maryland Mine), presented a series of five public comments to Nevada County Planning Commissioners in January 12, 2023. Additional Wells Coalition comments and handouts were presented to the Supervisors on April 18.

 

Pick a topic of interest below to skip to a comment, or download the PDF packet January 12.

  1. CEA Foundation: Groundwater Baseline Requirements in the EIR, a Legal Perspective

  2. Wells Coalition: Overview

  3. Wells Coalition: Groundwater Hydrology Uncertainty

  4. Wells Coalition: Well Owner's Perspective

  5. San Juan Ridge Taxpayers Association: Baseline Monitoring and the County's History on San Juan Ridge

Additional Comments, April 18

Attachments:

 

Read The Union newspaper's coverage.

 

1. Groundwater Baseline Requirements in the EIR, a Legal Perspective

Groundwater Baseline Requirements and the Idaho-Maryland Mine EIR Presented as Public Comment to the Planning Commission Jan 12, 2023


The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) does not allow the deferral of important studies necessary to characterize a project’s impacts.


According to CEQA Guidelines § 15125(a), an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) must include an accurate description of a project’s environmental setting, which provides “the baseline physical conditions by which a lead agency determines whether an impact is significant.”[1] It goes on to state: this baseline “should describe physical environmental conditions as they exist at the time the notice of preparation is published.”[2] (i.e. before the Draft EIR is prepared.) The purpose of this requirement is, per CEQA Guidelines, “to give the public and decision makers the most accurate and understandable picture practically possible of the project’s likely near-term and long-term impacts.”[3] And the court case of Save Our Peninsula Com. v. Monterey County Bd. of Supervisors (2001) affirmed that point: “Without a determination and description of the existing physical conditions on the property at the start of the environmental review process, the EIR cannot provide a meaningful assessment of the environmental impacts of the proposed project.”[4]


Note that the Rise Gold project Final EIR clearly acknowledges that this baseline is needed. It states that for each domestic well, a projected and seasonally averaged water level shall be estimated “...which will serve as a baseline groundwater level.”[5] But this incorrectly defers the collection of the needed additional groundwater data to after the EIR process is over.


Let’s look at it using common sense. Unless the EIR identifies current well levels and related data, it cannot establish performance criteria and evaluate how dewatering may impact wells, and it’s not possible to define appropriate mitigations. For example, Rise Gold’s hydrology model estimates that water levels will drop between 1-10 feet for over 150 wells. But there is no current data that could tell what the impact would be to well owners. A two foot drop could be critical. How would that be determined? Are some wells near failure? We don’t know.


CEQA law, County precedents, and common sense all say the same thing: Collection of the well data should have been included in the Draft EIR, not deferred until after the CEQA decision has been made.


Current domestic well monitoring data should have been collected and included in the EIR to establish a baseline so that it can be reviewed and then used in the decision making process.

The County has ignored this critical step and released an inadequate Final EIR.


Thank you.


///References///

-Refer to complete comments provided by Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger:

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[5] Idaho-Maryland Mine Draft EIR 4.8-2(a) -(4), pg 4.8-67,

 

2. Wells Coalition: Overview


Subject: Protection for Wells Near Idaho-Maryland Mine Still Not Adequate


The Wells Coalition is a group of well owners near the Idaho-Maryland Mine. Our purpose is to protect our only source of water, our wells.


We are astounded that a comprehensive domestic well monitoring program was not established before the Draft EIR was published last year. Such a program is a necessary step to establishing the baseline data required by CEQA. It’s clear that this omission was recognized in the Final EIR, but the proposed solution is little more than a band-aid that doesn’t actually address the serious, underlying problem.


Even though there are over 300 properties with wells within 1000 feet of the Mine’s mineral rights area, neither the draft nor final EIRs provided current monitoring data from these domestic wells. They relied only on sparse patches of data from over 15 years ago. The quality of this input data is one of many concerns identified by numerous experts who contradicted the findings of the Draft EIR’s groundwater study in their written comments.


The EIR’s primary approach is to install fifteen non-domestic monitoring wells over a limited area to do the job of predicting impacts for all water supply wells. With our complex fractured bedrock spread over thousands of acres, this approach is inadequate. This is further complicated by the fact that the estimated area of potential impact is based on the findings of a questionable study. In addition, the 378 properties identified in the Final EIR’s supplemental domestic well monitoring program only capture about 150 of the 300 plus wells in the mineral rights area.

Timing of baseline data collection, however, is really the central issue. CEQA requires that a baseline be established prior to the evaluation of potential impacts. This was not done. With mine dewatering, previous dry years, and drought still predicted for the future, it is imperative that we get this right. Adding a well monitoring program after the project is approved and just one year before the mine is dewatered - as the Final EIR proposes - is not only out of compliance with CEQA, but is also extremely shortsighted and risky. Multiple experts provided comments telling us that it takes a minimum of 3 years to establish a reliable baseline in order to account for year-over-year variations.


Also, under CEQA a mitigation measure must be achievable, enforceable, and must be capable of actually reducing the Project’s impacts. The Final EIR’s supplemental domestic well monitoring program is not even defined as a mitigation.


Not having a baseline established by a properly constructed domestic well monitoring program before publishing a Final EIR is unacceptable. Our wells are not currently being monitored. Since it will take several years for Rise Gold to establish a reliable baseline, we request the current EIR be rejected and that any future EIRs include at least 3 years of comprehensive well monitoring data.


Sincerely,


Christy Hubbard (District 3 resident)

The Wells Coalition

 

3. Groundwater Hydrology Uncertainty


Subject: the Idaho-Maryland Mine Final EIR groundwater hydrological model predictions and risk to domestic wells in the area of the Project.


The proposed well mitigations in the Final EIR for Rise Gold fail to acknowledge that there are significant risks posed to domestic wells in the surrounding area of the Idaho-Maryland Mine project, and it does not comply with CEQA.


The Final EIR for Rise Gold states:

“ All potentially impacted wells are located in the E. Bennett Road area. Domestic water wells outside this area will not be impacted.” [1]


But expert opinions contradict the certainty of these statements, citing repeatedly the uncertainties in hydrologic predictions and impacts to wells:


Emgold’s 2008 DEIR for the Idaho-Maryland Mine states

“Due to the uncertainties regarding the complex geology and groundwater flow, dewatering impacts to domestic water supply wells cannot be accurately predicted.[2]


Also, Emgold’s project description states

“The geologic formation in which the mine is located is fractured bedrock whose hydrogeology is difficult to predict. Therefore, reliance on Domestic Well Level Monitoring Program data will be required to assess impacts and discern appropriate mitigation measures for each domestic well owner.” [3]


After reviewing the hydrology computer model from the EIR for Rise Gold an expert hydrogeologist in groundwater modeling stated

“Even a well calibrated model has a large uncertainty to it, in its predictions.

It turns out that this model is not well calibrated, so the uncertainties are almost certainly larger.” [4]


The hydrology report for the Idaho-Maryland Mine’s 2008 EIR affirms the uncertainty in predicting whether ground water from near surface well waters may drain down into the deeper mine workings.


“The groundwater in this particular area is contained in and flows through fractures in near surface bedrock and because of this fracture flow regime, the groundwater flow in quantity varies considerably with location and cannot be predicted with certainty. Furthermore, complete hydraulic separation between the deeper groundwater within the underground mine workings and the shallow groundwater within fractures and supplying the domestic wells cannot be assumed.”[9]

Even the hydrologist who prepared the hydrology computer model for the EIR, told the NID board of directors.


“With fractured rock there will always be uncertainty and during my career there won’t be any 100% confidence in predictions.”[5]


It is because of these uncertainties that we are appealing to you to require protection for all wells with a comprehensive well monitoring plan for at least 3 years to gather baseline data to be used in a revised EIR.


Thank You,

Gary Pierazzi

The Wells Coalition


PS.

Additional expert opinion quotes regarding uncertainties in groundwater modeling and fractured rock.

______________________________________________________________________________


“The EMKO Report describes a three-step procedure used to assess potential drawdown effects in perimeter areas. A major assumption underlying the procedure is that flow contributions from the workings are distributed uniformly across the mining areas after correcting for depth. However, the subsurface distribution and orientation of bedrock fractures is not uniform and is subject to uncertainty. Discussion of this uncertainty and the overall uncertainty of the analytical and numerical model predictions with respect to groundwater level impacts on individual wells should be provided. expanded to include an assessment of the uncertainty in the conclusions developed by Todd Engineers.”[6]


“Although the analysis is considered conservative in methodology, several complexities in the groundwater system could potentially result in a larger or smaller radius of influence. Although larger impacts seem unlikely, it is difficult to prove that aberrations in the system do not exist.” [9]

“Uncertainties in the analysis indicate that monitoring should occur over a slightly larger area than where impacts are predicted. In addition, the monitoring program should consider adjustments specifically for geologic faulting.” [7]

“Monitoring locations should also include areas outside of the predicted impact zone to account for uncertainties in the analysis,” [7]


“The fracture systems existing in buried bedrock beneath Grass Valley are not mappable within the resolution needed to predict specific dewatering effects. Technology and state-of-the-art hydrogeology have not developed to a level that fracture mapping is possible. Due to this limitation, hydrogeologic modeling is attempted by making an assumption on fracture connectivity.” [8]


“Based upon the significance criteria established on page 4.3-4, the risk to all wells within the study area, regardless of risk category, represent a potentially significant impact.” [10]


“The study area has not been monitored by an approved groundwater monitoring system designed to observe the dynamics associated with subsurface hydrology. Therefore, many of the initial unknown hydrogeologic and geologic parameters located within the earth between well and mine elevations still exist.”


———————————————— footnotes ——————————————————


[1] Idaho Maryland Mine Project FEIR, December 2022, Volume VII, Appendix D, Page 2.

[2] Idaho-Maryland Mine Project Draft EIR (2008) p4.7-34

[3] Idaho-Maryland Mine Project, Revised Project Description (May 2011) Appendix N-T-3

[4] June Oberdorfer, PhD, PD, Certified Hydrogeologist (CHG), Review of the March 2020 EMKO Groundwater Hydrology Report, Minewatch Virtual Community Meeting Video Presentation (October 2021)

[5] Houmau Liu, hydrologist for Itasca, February 9, 2022 NID board of directors meeting.

[6] Appendix K.7 West/Yost Peer Review (August 27, 2020), p8-9, p18, Idaho-Maryland Mine Draft DEIR (December 2021)

[7] Todd Engineers (2007), Final Report Hydrogeologic Assessment Idaho-Maryland Mine, prepared for Idaho-Maryland Mining Corporation, August t.p22, p25, p26 [6] Idaho-Maryland Mine Project Draft EIR (2008) p4.7-34

[8] Steve Baker, Certified Hydrogeologist, Response Comment Letter to 2008 Idaho Maryland Mine DEIR

[9] Idaho-Maryland Mine Project Draft EIR (October 2008) 4.8 Hydrology and Water Quality, p 4.7.29

[10] Draft Environment Impact Report for The Idaho-Maryland Mine (May 1995) p4.3-5


 

4. Well Owner's Perspective - Without Water, My Property Is Worthless

I’m a resident & well owner in district 1.


I can appreciate the inclusion of a well monitoring program in the FEIR, but it falls significantly short of what we really need. I should not have to beg for protection from the county to keep our sacred resource safe. Our well is amazing! It provides safety from wildfires by allowing us to maintain green space. It keeps my family and pets healthy and happy. Just imagine what you would do if the water in your own home suddenly vanished. Your spouse and kids, asking what’s wrong with the water? Oh my god! Without water my property is worthless! How could this have happened? Where is the protection from my county?


Experts have weighed in on the amount of monitoring time necessary to obtain a dependable baseline. In some cases, 3 years is not even enough. It’s also a stretch to accept a program that is deficient in infrastructure to replace my water resource if it becomes damaged? As I read the details, I would be subject to some sort of nebulous negotiations with Rise Gold to get my water connected to NID. Would this make you feel protected? To be forced to deal with a CEO that has demonstrated severe environmental failures in Canada, and spreads contrary information through press releases and interviews, stating, “there will be no impacts”, or, “the community overwhelmingly supports the project”?


I should not be required to compromise or negotiate when it comes to an intruder causing harm to my family and home. None of the hundreds of well owners asked for this. None of us would be the recipient of any benefit whatsoever. We need complete protection from this potential catastrophe, with a comprehensive well monitoring program that is designed around the adequate years necessary to produce dependable data. This data should have been obtained before the DEIR, according to CEQA. This program must also lay out, in specific details, the transfer to an equal replacement water source, with all necessary infrastructure in place, and independent from Rise Gold for immediate implementation when a well fails.


Our stress levels are off the charts dealing with these potential consequences, including financial ruin and loss of our nest egg. The fact that I must beg for protection in 3 minutes here is just as stressful. No one here today would accept even the tiniest risk that they could lose their water in exchange for gold in the pockets of strangers. I implore the board reject this FEIR and take everything back to the drawing board with our protection as top priority.


Tony & Lauren Lauria


 

5. Baseline Monitoring and the County's History on San Juan Ridge






My name is Sol Henson, I grew up on the San Juan Ridge and hold a master's degree in hydrology. I am the president of the San Juan Ridge Taxpayers Association and speak for the Association today. I'm here to talk about the importance of baseline monitoring for wells to protect our community from industrial mining impacts.


In 1995 Siskon Gold operated a gold mine in the North Columbia Diggings on the San Juan Ridge. During mining operations, they breached a water bearing fault-line 300 feet underground. This breach led to the loss of nearly a dozen wells including the well for our middle school and the community Cultural Center. This was a disaster for those who lost their wells, but we still do not know the extent of well impacts. Some wells may have lost 50% or even 75% capacity but without baseline data, owners could not prove that the mine had impacted their wells.


This was a single catastrophic event. Wells are more commonly impacted by the extraordinary amount of water pumped out of mine tunnels just to maintain daily industrial mining operations. Over time, millions of gallons of water a day must be removed from the surrounding fractured bedrock aquifer. In such cases, well impacts can be slow to develop and can be hidden within seasonal cycles.


In 2012, the San Juan Ridge Mine Corporation submitted a new permit application to mine the North Columbia Diggings. Exhibiting due diligence, and with community input, the County helped to create a baseline monitoring program for domestic wells. This program established a baseline through monthly collection of water quantity and quality data. This information would have been invaluable for the environmental review process. Should the mine have been permitted, well owners would have had recourse to say with some confidence if their well had been impacted.


We firmly support the precedent of baseline monitoring for projects of such scale and impact as the Idaho Maryland Mine. Significant monitoring programs have been developed in the past for the IMM site, including for the 1996 permit to dewater the mine for exploration and the 2008 Emgold Mine environmental review process. It is unclear why the current Rise Gold effort to permit the IMM lacks a monitoring plan that would form a baseline for water quantity and quality of domestic wells in the surrounding area. We believe that the community is owed these safeguards and that CEQA requires it. Thank you very much.


Sincerely,


Sol Henson

President of the San Juan Ridge Taxpayer's Association

 

Additional Comments - April 18, 2023

6. Subject: Final EIR for the Idaho-Maryland Mine Unacceptable for Well Owners


The Wells Coalition is a group of property/well owners and residents near the Idaho-Maryland Mine. Our purpose is to protect our only source of water, our wells.


We shared our concerns with you about the mine during public comment on December 13th. This was just a few days before the Final EIR was released. All the arguments we shared with you then are all still valid – but there is more to say now.


Today, we’re here to formally ask you to REJECT the FEIR and VOTE NO on the project. Huge risks are not being addressed, posing a very real threat to our local groundwater resources and property values.


The Final EIR asserts that stronger mitigations and/or financial assurances are “not necessary because no significant impact to domestic water wells are predicted”.

But a “prediction” is only an educated guess – NOT a certainty. And in this case, it is based on an analysis that has serious flaws.


The stakes are too high to get this wrong. The County’s Economic Impact Report revealed this mine proposal is unprecedented in its proximity to so many homes. Pumping over a million gallons a day from an area with hundreds of wells is a huge risk. If “predictions” are wrong, it could cost the County, NID, and individual homeowners tens of millions of dollars – and years or decades – to connect a permanent water supply to each property.


Claiming “no significant impact” defies both science and common sense.


In Draft EIR comments, multiple hydrology experts confirmed that groundwater models in fractured bedrock like ours can NOT deliver 100% certainty. They also revealed numerous defects in the groundwater model. The Final EIR dismissed these concerns, but then – in contradictory fashion – agreed that more data is needed for validating the model.


Without current well monitoring data, the FEIR’s “threshold of significance” is invalid. The FEIR lacks current well performance baseline data and is inadequate under CEQA. The FEIR relies only on sparse patches of data from 15 years ago.


Baseline data is needed to assess potential impacts to groundwater and well owners prior to determining mitigations. It is also the lynchpin in determining what threshold should be used to determine the measure of “significance”. The FEIR sets that threshold at a 10% drawdown in water level, but legal experts call that number “arbitrary” and “invalid”.


The FEIR’s addition of a Domestic Well Monitoring Program for 378 properties is a feeble attempt to address the issue, but it’s too little, too late, too short, and it’s not even a mitigation. [Added in spoken comments: We’ll be leaving you a preview copy of our full group comment letter, plus a 2-page handout called “Understand the Gaps” that says a lot more about this.]


The Final EIR states that the applicant is in compliance with the County General Plan requirement that “provides for protection of domestic water wells from potential mining impacts” and “ to guarantee a comparable supply of water to such homes or businesses” but the FEIR does not demonstrate or even discuss how or if the Applicant can meet the County requirements.


Other than the proposed 30 NID connections along East Bennett Rd,


THERE IS NO MITIGATION PLAN IN THE FEIR FOR CONNECTING IMPACTED WELLS TO NID WATER SERVICE.


That means:

• No additional wells identified as needing mitigation

• No water supply assessment

• No infrastructure design plans

• No permitting, acquiring easements, or rights-of-way

• No timetable


But most importantly, No financial assurances for design construction and bringing service to impacted well owners.


NID has asked for a $14 million dollar bond but the FEIR dismisses the request, stating

“A bond for construction of water supply infrastructure in this area is not necessary”.

This is a recipe for disaster. Today’s NID projects take many years to complete, but a failure in this project could create a large-scale crisis for NID, the County, and especially homeowners. People will scream “where’s my water?”. And a property with no permanent water supply is worthless.


The FEIR is also striking in its absence of accountability. It describes steps for fixing wells or providing temporary water, but all decisions are left solely up to the mine operator, who would take action only if the 15 monitoring wells in the official Groundwater Monitoring Plan flag an impact.


This is especially concerning because the complexity of the fractured bedrock geology in the area may mask impacts. With the impact threshold arbitrarily set at a 10% drawdown, homeowners with marginal wells may lose water long before they get a call from the mine operator.


What’s missing here is a separate oversight committee or commission authorized to make decisions. They would make determinations of impact to well owners, resolve disputes, provide professional analysis and reporting of data regarding the monitoring, assure timely execution of mitigations, and administer fines or corrective notices.


The bottom line is that well owners are being told to trust that nothing will go wrong with their water supply for 80 years based on assumptions and speculation. The Wells Coalition is asking the County to REJECT the FEIR and VOTE NO on the project.


Thank you,


Christy Hubbard (District 3) and Gary Pierazzi (District 3)

The Wells Coalition


Attachments (includes full four-page comment letter with citations, plus a 2-page handout providing an at-a-glance view of the the FEIR's claim vs. gaps.

Wells Coalition Group Letter PREVIEW
.pdf
Download PDF • 379KB
Understand the Gaps Final
.pdf
Download PDF • 277KB


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