Potential sale of Shafter mine leaves future of community’s water supply in question

SHAFTER — After weeks of rumors about bankruptcy, Shafter locals heard last week that the Shafter Silver Project was in the process of being sold. The small community between Presidio and Marfa — home to 30-odd residents — has long depended on the mine for its water supply. 

Presidio Silver — the El Paso-based company hoping to purchase the mine from current owner Aurcana Silver — confirmed to The Big Bend Sentinel that a deal was in the works but had not yet been completed. “As a public company with Shafter as its primary asset, Aurcana is obligated to make a public announcement once a sale is complete. We hope to achieve that before year end, after an Aurcana shareholder vote is held,” said Mark Isaacs, manager of Presidio Silver. 

“Presidio Silver’s first-year plans include a new water well, but we can’t confirm details until on-site post-purchase diligence is complete,” Isaacs continued. “Presidio Silver will work closely with county officials regarding these efforts, and of course will always be available to Shafter residents for in-person visits,” he continued.

Shafter was founded as a mining boomtown in the 1880s, and the population has sharply declined since the 1940s, when Fort D.A. Russell in Marfa was decommissioned. The site of the original silver mine changed hands numerous times over the past century — in 2008, the mine was sold to Aurcana Silver, which decided to capitalize on rising silver prices by bringing the Shafter mine back to life for the first time in generations. 

Aurcana’s headquarters are based in Canada, and the company operates two silver mines in the United States. Despite much-touted upgrades in the works at their Ouray location, Aurcana stock prices started tanking in the spring, spawning bankruptcy rumors. Shafter locals started to worry — the 25 water hookups in town are all maintained by the mine. 

Last week, County Judge Cinderela Guevara contacted the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to get answers — Antonio Manriquez, who oversaw Shafter’s water system, told investigators that his last day of work was September 26. 

Guevara called a community meeting in Shafter to share the results of her findings, and around a dozen locals gathered in the church to hear about the future of their water supply. “I’m just as concerned as you are,” she told everyone assembled. “I have a community in danger of losing its water source.” 

There are a number of emergency measures the county can take — the county recently budgeted for the purchase of a portable tank of drinking water that can be sent to communities in crisis. Everyone agreed that that wasn’t a long-term solution; the Shafter well is 900 feet deep and many people in town depend on the mining company’s water hookups. “Can I see a show of hands — everyone who feels they need an alternate water source?” Guevara asked. 

Almost everyone assembled raised their hands. There was a lively discussion about how the community should proceed in order to ensure safe, clean drinking water for future generations — former Presidio County Judge Monroe Elms suggested that the city incorporate and elect officials, making Shafter eligible for funding through the Rio Grande Council of Governments and other agencies. “Because we would be our own entity, we wouldn’t have to rely on the county — we would rely on whoever is mayor,” Elms said. 

Not everyone in the crowd agreed with Elm’s proposition — the more middle-of-the-road solution entailed creating a water corporation like the ones in Candelaria and Redford, two of Presidio County’s other unincorporated communities. Water bills to the corporation would go toward environmental regulation and infrastructure — both towns have state-of-the-art systems, despite how small and remote they are. 

Shafter resident Martha Stafford agreed that having a water source independent from the mine was a top priority — the previous mine owners stuck around for 15 years, but very little information was known about the new owner. “My concern is that in three years he might decide he’s throwing good money after bad, and then we’re right back where we started,” Stafford said. 

Judge Guevara gathered contact information from Shafter locals and promised to keep in touch with everyone about the status of the water system. At press time, she had not been able to get a hold of the potential new owner of the mine. “You all are on the state’s radar,” she assured everyone.