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Uranium mining and Grand Canyon

Published April 30, 2011 12:15 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

For the past 15 years, I've worked as a rafting guide on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. I've been privileged to share the wonders of this remarkable place with people from all over the world, and they always tell me that the Grand Canyon is the most amazing place they have ever been. That is why I am concerned about the re-opening of uranium mining on 1 million acres of federal public lands adjacent to Grand Canyon National Park.

Since July 20, 2009, a two-year moratorium disallowing new mining operations has been in effect while the Bureau of Land Management conducted an environmental impact study. A Draft Environmental Impact Statement has been developed that includes four proposed alternatives for management of these lands. The public comment period will end on May 4. It is critical that the BLM hear from all concerned citizens by that date.

I'm supporting Alternative B, which will withdraw about a million acres from hardrock mineral exploration and mining for 20 years, subject to valid existing rights. It would not prevent any other development under laws regulating mineral leasing, geothermal leasing, mineral materials or public lands. The other three alternatives are to take "no action" and allow mining claims to proceed, or to withdraw smaller parcels of land. I feel strongly that the largest possible area should be protected while a long-term study is conducted to discern the farthest-reaching effects of exploratory mining and extraction, including environmental impacts, economic impacts, and social/cultural impacts.

Uranium mining in the Grand Canyon area will have a huge impact on the area's watershed. The uranium excavation process known as "breccia pipe-type" results in ore and waste rock being piled on the land's surface, where precipitation and run-off waters can transport it into the Grand Canyon via aquifers, springs, and drainages. There is a real potential for uranium contamination to occur in the creeks, seeps, and other tributaries that supply water to Grand Canyon National Park.

Metropolitan Water District of Los Angeles and Southern Nevada Water Authority have voiced their serious concerns about possible contamination of the entire Colorado River if uranium mining is permitted in areas surrounding the Grand Canyon. Uranium mining will also deplete water availability in the canyon as wells are drilled and springs are tapped to support drilling and extraction, and to provide potable water for day-to-day living and sanitation needs. Wells will tap into the Redwall-Muav aquifer that supplies most of the springs in the canyon including popular attraction sites such as Thunder River and Deer Creek.

If all mining claims in the Grand Canyon region were turned into active mines using the same amount of water as projected by the Canyon Uranium Mine (Canyon Uranium Mine EIS, 1986), the canyon's springs and streams could be decimated, along with all of the plants and animals that depend on the water. Tourism has been the mainstay of the region's economy. On average, 5 million people visit the Grand Canyon every year, making it the key regional economic engine for northern Arizona and southern Utah, adding jobs and driving the growth of small businesses in local communities. Polluting the Grand Canyon with uranium mines and radioactive tailings would have a drastic, negative effect on the area's economic viability. The Grand Canyon is the soul of America's National Park System. To learn more, and to submit a comment by May 4th, go to: http://www.blm.gov/az/st/en/prog/mining/timeout.html.

Walker Mackay is a rafting guide in his family's outfitting business based in Salt Lake City.