Engaging the community in improving Queen Creek water quality

Three DEQ staff pose on a bridge
Dept of Environmental Quality
Problem Statement

Queen Creek supports wildlife and tourism in the mountains near Superior and Globe, Arizona. Within the watershed, several creeks and drainages have been impacted for years by dissolved copper from historic mines. Dissolved metals are more easily absorbed by fish and other aquatic organisms, which may lead to reduced reproduction, physical abnormalities or stunted growth for native fish and other wildlife. This can cascade to affect the biodiversity of the entire area.

Action Taken

In 2022, ADEQ undertook the significant responsibility of initiating the process for the creation of the Queen Creek total maximum daily load (TMDL) for copper and lead impairments. TMDL describes the amount of a pollutant a stream or lake can absorb and still meet water quality standards. Establishing a TMDL allowed ADEQ to identify sources of pollutants and potential pollutant reductions.

During the launch of this effort, ADEQ initiated standard work to expand stakeholder and community engagement to enhance involvement from local entities in regulatory decisions. The team working on the TMDL was the first to apply the new ADEQ Community and Intergovernmental Engagement Team's recommendations in their processes.

Engagement began with landowners in the Queen Creek watershed, including a local mining company, Resolution Copper, that was remediating historic mine waste while conducting underground exploration. The unit manager of the TMDL team arranged a comprehensive tour with this local mine to gain a thorough understanding of their water-related processes and discharge practices. This tour shed light on the industry's operations, including efforts to eliminate the historic smelter waste from the Superior area. Discussions with the local industry also led ADEQ to discover additional water quality data that was collected by the mine. The mining company agreed to provide the data to ADEQ. 

Community members received updates on ADEQ’s activities on Queen Creek at multiple community meetings and also filled out anonymous questionnaires to contribute local perspectives on the water quality in Queen Creek, the Queen Creek TMDL, and stakeholder feedback and questions. 

Furthermore, the newfound partnership facilitated the identification of a Water Working Group within the Town of Superior. The group identified several preexisting restoration projects that are contributing to water quality improvement, and ADEQ is supporting the community in establishing a grassroots watershed group, fostering critical community buy-in to implementing the TMDL and reducing the impact of pollutants. The watershed group’s formation is being guided by the University of Arizona’s Water Resources Research Center.

Results & Impact

A TMDL process was initiated to address the copper and lead pollution in the watershed, and local industry and community members are now actively engaged in water quality improvement along Queen Creek. Water quality updates are now provided quarterly via email to all interested parties. Community members and partners have a clear point of contact for any questions, concerns, or additional insight they may wish to share.

ADEQ gained key insight into ongoing restoration activities and plans throughout the region that may impact the TMDL and contribute to improved water quality. The agency also obtained additional data from Resolution Copper that they have been gathering since 2016 that ADEQ previously didn’t have available to reference. 

The increased ADEQ community engagement process has shown great success in moving forward with the Queen Creek TMDL. By establishing a robust local collaborative approach, ADEQ and the community will create and execute a sustainable TMDL and remediation plan that not only addresses the environmental concerns but also aligns with the needs and aspirations of the Town of Superior and its residents.