Non-coal surface mining (or aggregate mining) presents additional threats to the Aquifer. Certainly, CPASA is not anti-mining; rather, CPASA believes that mining over such a unique and sensitive Aquifer should be conducted in a responsible manner so as to ensure the local communities, industries, agricultural operations, businesses, and citizens are not harmed. In other words, the aggregate industry should be a good neighbor. While CPASA continues to strive for such a relationship, there remains much work to get there.
CPASA first became aware of the negative impacts aggregate mines had in 2005 when Martin Marietta filed an application for surface water for their North Troy mining operation near Mill Creek. It was at this time CPASA learned that the withdrawal of “pit water,” or water that infiltrates into the mining pit, was completely unregulated by any state agency. The protest mounted against Martin Marietta’s application was of a scale never before seen by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB). Protestants included CPASA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the Arbuckle Master Conservancy District, the Cities of Ada, Davis, Durant, Sulphur, and Tishomingo, as well as hundreds of individual citizens. Following weeks of hearings attended by hundreds of CPASA members, the OWRB issued its ruling declaring jurisdiction over pit water.
The OWRB’s decision was immediately appealed. Unfortunately, in this case, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that if it looks, acts, and replenishes like a groundwater well, it is nonetheless not a groundwater well. This ruling had the practical effect of removing pit water from the OWRB’s jurisdiction.
Certain protestors reached a settlement agreement with Martin Marietta that required the mine to report the withdrawal and disposition of its pit water. Through those reports, CPASA learned that over 1,000 acre-feet of groundwater is removed each year from the North Troy quarry (now owned by Vulcan Materials). That equates to 325,851,000.00 gallons each year from just one of the many mines over the Aquifer. To put this in perspective, the North Troy quarry alone withdraws approximately the same amount of groundwater as the entire City of Sulphur each year. Such large withdrawals have marked impacts on local groundwater flow—nearby wells have gone dry and springs that once flowed through the worst droughts are now dry.
CPASA attempted for many years to engage the aggregate industry to find a resolution. However, the aggregate industry was uninterested in negotiations. Left with little choice, CPASA approached the Oklahoma Legislature for assistance. In response, Senate Bill 597 was passed which required existing mines to report the total water balance of their operations and which explicitly brought the regulation of pit water under the OWRB’s jurisdiction. While SB 597 was undoubtedly a step in the right direction, it suffers from many loopholes that have been exploited by the aggregate industry. CPASA hopes to work cooperatively with all stakeholders—including the aggregate industry—to close these loopholes and provide sound protection to Oklahoma citizens in this region.