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Amargosa officials say lithium mine threatens Ash Meadows oasis

When it comes to the Let’s Go Lithium mining project proposed right on the borders of Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, Amargosa Town Manager Mike Cottingham is not mincing words.

“This puts a very valuable resource for Southern Nye County at risk,” he asserted during a Nye County Water District Governing Board meeting this month.

He was before the water board on Nov. 14 seeking its support in opposing exploratory drilling that Rover Metals, Canadian-based owner of the Let’s Go Lithium project, wishes to conduct in the area. Surface sampling revealed high-grade claystone lithium deposits to the north of Ash Meadows but more detailed sampling is sought with the use of exploration bore holes.

“This thing was sliding under the radar until a few months ago,” Cottingham explained. “Now we’ve got everybody up in arms and working against it. There is no benefit to Nye County from this thing, in no shape, form or fashion.”

Cottingham started off by citing Interim Order #1330, issued by the Nevada Division of Water Resources.

“It talks about how… there is no more water to be had, you cannot create any new water rights (in the Amargosa Desert). And also, they have us kind of hamstrung over there – no water (point of diversion) can be moved toward Ash Meadows, only away from it. So this order shows how important the water is out there,” Cottingham stated. “And a lot of people don’t realize it but the water table out there is only 45 feet deep.”

The cluster of exploratory drill holes Rover Metals is hoping to sink would be in the neighborhood of 250 to 300 feet deep and with the hydrology and geology of the basin in that area uncertain, this creates a big concern.

“None of us know exactly what’s under there and we’re afraid that if they start punching through that thing, they could end up draining Ash Meadows in a heartbeat,” Cottingham asserted. “They are right on top of this stuff.”

Rover Metals is not unaware of the concerns surrounding the project, which has already seen lawsuits filed against it by two groups and pushback from various other entities. Rover’s website offers information intended to reassure community members that the company has made changes in its plans to address the disquiet that has been voiced.

“We never intended to mine or develop near to Ash Meadows and moving the core of the LGL project further away from Ash Meadows sends a clear message that Rover is committed to developing the project in a manner that is sustainable for the surrounding area,” Rover Metals CEO Judson Cutler stated.

Cottingham, however, said he was taking no comfort from such assertions. He questioned the company’s statement that it is working to ensure there is no impact to the water tables in the Amargosa basin and scoffed at the claim that such mining in the area can be sustainable.

“We beg to differ,” Cottingham said, remarking, “Order #1330 shows you how critical the water tables are, and they’re darn near right there on the surface.”

Cottingham said he felt that local governments like the town of Amargosa and Nye County were simply being steamrolled in the boom of the renewable energy industry and the water board appeared to feel much the same.

“I totally agree that Nye County is being treated extremely badly,” water board chair Helene Williams said. “We have been and it’s time for the word to get out that it’s not acceptable anymore. This county is going to stand up and say, ‘No!’”

Board member Michael Lach jumped in to note that the board is not against the mining industry itself, which is a crucial part of Nye County. Rather, it is the location for this particular project that is drawing opposition.

At the end of the discussion, Nye County Water District General Manager Dann Weeks was tasked with lodging the water board’s protest of the project at a meeting with the Bureau of Land Management the following day. In addition, a letter of protest to the Nevada Division of Water Resources will be drafted and presented to the board for its approval and its next meeting, set for February, 2024.

Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at rhebrock@pvtimes.com

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