Friday, December 31, 2010

Geo-news in review for Arizona

The big geo-stories of the past year in Arizona were dominated not surprisingly by mining, water, and natural disasters.

The price of copper is up nearly 30% this year, bringing new mines, renewed activity at existing mines, company profits, jobs, and tax revenues but concerns over environmental impacts. Controversies continue over the proposed Resolution and Rosemont copper mines. The Florence in situ mine was readying for operation in 2011.

A USGS report on uranium in northern Arizona assuaged some concerns about renewed mining, or not. [see below]. The BLM's EIS on 1 million acres of federal lands churned on at year end.

Gold mining is returning to the Copperstone mine near Quartzite, and companies are exploring for potash, lithium, and other hot commodities.

While miners seemed optimistic, water managers had little good news during the year. Lake Mead was at an all time low, and forecasts are for continued drought.

The Havasupai Tribe became the first tribal group in Arizona to successfully seek federal disaster assistance on their own, with a promise of $1.6 million to repair damage from repeated flooding in October.

In Flagstaff, the Schultz fire led to flooding and debris flows that blindsided county officials and residents. Will this be a teachable moment for Arizonas about sheet flow and alluvial fan flooding?

The El Mayor -Cucapah earthquake in Baja at Easter shook up areas across southern California and the Yuma region. As we've seen repeatedly for 125 years, you don't have to have earthquakes in Arizona to cause damage here.

And just last week, 7 houses were destroyed by flooding along Beaver Dam Wash and many more damaged.

Cyndy Cole, staff reporter for the Arizona [Flagstaff] Daily Sun offered some sharp insights today on geology-related stories in northern Arizona:

Flagstaff wants to import groundwater from near Navajo and Hopi lands (at Red Gap Ranch), and doing so would require tribal approval for a pipeline.

-- Past uranium mining in the region left most waterways (streams, creeks) downstream clean enough to drink, the U.S. Geological Survey found in research released in February. Environmentalists see the opposite: The mining had a detectable footprint, they assert.

One mine on the Arizona Strip (north of Grand Canyon) reopened last December, and two more are planned to reopen, with legal and administrative appeals almost a certainty.

-- Researchers found that a March 2008 flood in the Grand Canyon rebuilt sandbars, but that they didn't last. The majority of the sediment that once went down the Colorado River remains behind Glen Canyon Dam.

How to build beaches is something of a hot issue because they have been shrinking in recent years, and vegetation has been spreading over much of what remains, making camping less available for boaters and backpackers.

-- The local White Vulcan pumice mine on the eastern flanks of the San Francisco Peaks is closing 10 years after it received a $1 million federal buyout. It once boomed in the stone-washed-jeans era.

-- The area burned in the 15,000-acre Schultz fire may re-open to the public next summer.

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