Great Basin Resource Watch: Mining operations

Project title

Areas of Influence from Mining Operations in Nevada: Water Use & Water Rights Research question

The goal of this project is to examine the areas of influence from major hard rock mining operations (current and proposed) in Nevada. The focus of this component of the project will build on the initial phase of work and encompass the following:

  1. continue research on what constitutes a mining operations’ area of influence with respect to water use and water rights;
  2. determine the area of influence with respect to water use and water rights for major current and proposed mining operations throughout Nevada;
  3. using a GIS system, identify these areas of influence with respect to water use and water rights for major current and proposed mining operations throughout Nevada; and
  4. link research on the area of influence with respect to water use and water rights to how ‘beneficial water use’ is being applied in Nevada.

The research questions are:

  • What factors influence a hard rock mine’s area of influence on water use and water rights?
  • Where are the areas of influence with respect to water use and water rights from major current and proposed hard rock mining operations throughout Nevada?
  • How are major hard rock mining operations’ areas of influence with respect to water use related to the application of ‘beneficial water use’ in Nevada?


This work is part of a larger, long-term project that will create visual representations of the area of influence from mining in the Great Basin and facilitate the spatial analyze these within a GIS platform. Great Basin Resource Watch (GBRW) envisions multiple layers, each representing a different aspect of the overall effect of the mining operations.

As an example, the land surface overlay will extend beyond the plan of operations boundaries to show that the physical operations of the mine affect wildlife much further from the mine. Sage grouse is one species that has received a lot of attention in western US as a sensitive species and there are numerous estimates of the needed exclusion zones around sage grouse leks and habitat, thus indicating how far from mining disturbance the species is affected. In addition to water use and water rights, other overlays will address water quality, cultural values, air, and landscape aesthetic beyond the plan of operations boundary. As the layers are created, they can be combined to generate a cumulative zone of influence.

The results from this project will serve as an aid for people, especially those that do not live near where mining operation exists (which includes most of the people in Nevada) to be better able to form a mental image of the scope of impacts from of mining in Nevada. It is also designed to be useful for the Western Shoshone, whose have long lived in these areas and rural residents.

The influence and often the environmental impact as presented in environmental assessments is typically based from the actual physical disturbance (usually the plan boundary) of the mine plan. This approach tends to minimize the visual “environmental footprint.” of the mining operation. The mining industry tends to communicate the impacts of mining solely in terms of the physical disturbance of the mine within the plan boundary. The total area of the state of Nevada is 70,766,080 acres, all the mine plans in Nevada is 120,514.8 acres of public land and 89,088.3 of private for a total of 209,603.1 acres, which is about 0.3 percent of the area in the state. From this perspective one might conclude that mining should have little effect on the environment. GBRW believes that this is misleading and inaccurate.


GBRW envisions the overall project as occurring in phases with multiple developers.

Previous work has been done on the analysis of water rights and water use for completed for three mine sites with a GIS base layer of the Great Basin with the mining plan boundaries and show native communities and the Treaty of Ruby Valley boundary. This phase of the project will complete work for additional mines (most likely two or three), applying the existing developed “template” for area of influence with respect to water use to the additional mines, and merge the existing work on water use and rights to form a collective map layer. It should be noted that while examples will exist for three mines, each mine site is unique and may require considerable modifications from the template. Additionally, the analysis will involve examining beneficial water use as it relates to the area of influence of water use and water rights, and the possibility of the complicating factor of multiple mines in the same area of influence.

The student will utilize the above approach to complete the water use and water rights mapping for additional mines. Work will also involve producing a report with a student’s analysis about the process of identifying water use and water rights areas of influence and how this relates to beneficial uses. Finally, GBRW, the student, and faculty adviser will consult with individuals in the affected communities to fold in the perspective of the directly affected people.

Additional mine sites and additional phases (to be conducted in future semesters), will build out further the GIS with additional layers.

Suggested skills

The student should:

  • Have experience applying GIS to community or other local projects;
  • Have experience with water management or policy in the western US;
  • Work well without constant oversight (i.e., be conscientious and an independent learner);
  • Act professionally in contacts within the organization and with rural residents and tribal members;
  • Preference will be given to students who have advanced GIScience coursework and coursework or experience in tribal environmental governance or rural community issues.
  • Students that may have interest in this project include Geography, Environmental Science and similar majors.

Agency representative

John Hadder
(775) 348-1986