Nevada’s groundwater: Sacred land, lithium and the environment

Thacker Pass
Spread the love

September 13, 2023 — Sacred land, ranching, and groundwater issues are converging in Nevada.

Nevada’s Lithium Treasure.

Recent research has unveiled that an ancient supervolcano in Nevada, the McDermitt Caldera, could be home to the world’s most substantial lithium depositOpens in a new tab.. Situated on the Nevada-Oregon border, this caldera is believed to house an astonishing 20 to 40 million metric tons of lithium, over twice the concentration found in any other clay bed worldwide.

However, there are concerns about the study’s authenticity since it was financed by a mining companyOpens in a new tab.. The proposition to extract the lithium has being met with resistance and debate.

The Potential Economic Boost.

The discovery of such vast lithium reserves could have massive implications for the U.S. economy and the energy sectorOpens in a new tab.. Lithium, often dubbed “liquid gold for car manufacturersOpens in a new tab.” by experts, is essential for making batteries used in electric vehicles, mobile phones, and renewable energy sources.

Given the skyrocketing demand for lithium – with projections suggesting a need for a million metric tons by 2040 – domestic reserves could reduce America’s dependence on lithium imports. Currently, most of the nation’s lithium is sourced from Australia and South America, a process consuming significant water and energy.

Lithium Nevada, LLC, which is under the umbrella of Lithium Americas Corporation (LAC), owns this particular project. Notably, LAC financed the recent study.

Environmental and Cultural Concerns.

While the economic prospects are promising, the proposed mining project has raised numerous environmental and cultural issues. Ranchers in the vicinity fear that mining will cause a drastic reduction in groundwater levelsOpens in a new tab..

Furthermore, the US Interior Department’s environmental assessment pinpointed potential threats to local wildlife, including the native pronghorn antelope, sage grouse, and golden eagles. These golden eagles hold significant spiritual value for the local First Nations communities.

The Historical Significance of Thacker Pass.

Thacker Pass on the southern portion of the proposed mining projectOpens in a new tab. is known to some as Peehee Mu’huh. It’s the ancestral territory of several Indigenous nations, with a rich history of hunting, farming, and medicine gathering.

However, this land also bears the scars of past atrocities. In 1865, 31 Paiute tribe members were brutally killed here by American soldiers. The area’s numerous caves played a crucial role in protecting the Fort McDermitt tribe from forceful relocation over 100 years ago. Thus, for some tribal members, mining this land is tantamount to violating historically sacred places like Pearl Harbor or Arlington National Cemetery.

Protecting Bahsahwahbee: A Cultural Legacy.

In eastern Nevada, the Duckwater Shoshone Tribe, the Ely Shoshone Tribe, and the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute are campaigning for the establishment of the Bahsahwahbee National MonumentOpens in a new tab.. This site, located near Ely, is a cultural landmark for these tribes, marking the spot of three tragic massacres in the late 1800s, resulting in the death of over 750 Native Americans.

Today, the location is home to a unique juniper tree grove, known as Swamp Cedars. Here, tribes congregate to honor their forefathers. The groundwater in this area also carries profound significance for these tribes.

Previously, the Southern Nevada Water Authority had a pipeline project in the pipeline to drain 7.8 billion gallons of water annually from the desert groundwater basins surrounding Bahsahwahbee. Although this plan was shelved in 2020Opens in a new tab., the permits are still valid.

Despite Bahsahwahbee’s designation as a Traditional Cultural Property in 2017, tribal leaders argue that more safeguards are essential to ensure the site’s preservation for future generations.


Blowing dust south of Thacker PassOpens in a new tab. along Nevada State Route 293 (Kings River Road) 3.3 miles east of the western terminus.  Famartin, June 2014 via Wikimedia Commons.


Since 1995, Deborah has owned and operated LegalTech LLC with a focus on water rights. Before moving to Arizona in 1986, she worked as a quality control analyst for Honeywell and in commercial real estate, both in Texas. She learned about Arizona's water rights from the late and great attorney Michael Brophy of Ryley, Carlock & Applewhite. Her side interests are writing (and reading), Wordpress programming and much more.

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Recent Posts

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
Skip to content