The QueQue: COSA tackles towing fees, Rate hike for UTSA's dismal grad rates, Small victory in Goliad County
Published: May 30, 2012
Sure the TCEQ may be trying to cast the EPA's most recent action as more supposed overreach, but those who have been fighting the mining of uranium from a drinking-water aquifer in Goliad County for five years know that's political hooey. "Because of state saber-rattling, people who are not familiar with the issues might look at it as such," said Art Dohmann, a retired mechanical engineer and president of the Goliad County Groundwater Conservation District. "But from our perspective it's a very legitimate request and a legitimate concern." While the TCEQ overruled the judgment of a state administrative law judge (who wanted assurance the mining would not impact area water wells) by granting Uranium Energy Corp.'s request for an "aquifer exemption," the EPA has decided not to sign off on it so quickly. "We continue to believe that the criteria for granting an aquifer exemption have not yet been met," wrote William Honker, EPA's acting director of Region 6′s water quality division, to TCEQ Executive Director Zak Covar in a letter dated May 16, 2012. "The EPA's examination of TCEQ's aquifer exemption request revealed numerous domestic water supply wells in the proposed mining area, and are currently used for drinking water by local residents," Honker wrote. Therefore, Honker requested a more detailed analysis from UEC: a two-part model to consider both if residents are using their wells for water today, but also if the water "will be withdrawn in the future." The timescale recommended for potential future use of the wells is 75 years.
Uranium tends to bind to other minerals and remain static in the water-bearing sands of an aquifer until it is disturbed — which is the purpose of the oxygenated slurry pumped into the sands during in-situ mining, a process that forces the mineral into the water table where it can then be pumped above ground and separated out. Aquifers mined for uranium in the state — including at Kingsville Dome in Kleberg County, where county commissioners had to sue Uranium Resources Inc. to get the company to agree to restore a contaminated aquifer to its pre-mining condition — are typically left is worse shape than they were before mining, according to reports.
For residents who have been fighting the permit, Honker's letter was a validation. "It's definitely a David-Goliath kind of fight, because everything the TCEQ does is geared toward getting them a permit," said Pat Calhoun, president of the Goliad County Farm Bureau. And while the company cast the ruling as business as usual, they have also applied for another mining site at the county's (less politically organized) southern end, inspiring more outreach by the groundwater district. "Our purpose is to get people to understand that this whole activity is in their drinking water supply. Because they're not being told that by the industry," Dohmann said. "People may know there's a well going down in the ground, but what's happening in there they have no clue." •