Canyon mine exploration. Image credit:Robert Tohe
Stacey Hamburg remembers the day in the fall of 2007 when she was cruising up Arizona's Route 64 toward the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and saw a helicopter flying low and slow, back and forth just above the tops of pinon trees. "This helicopter was not out tracking antelope, but was scouting for uranium," she told me. Stacey is the conservation organizer for the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Protection Campaign.
There's a Uranium Rush going on and it's threatening one of this country's greatest treasures. In 2003 there were just 10 uranium-mining claims within five miles of the Grand Canyon; now there are 1,100 and thousands more beyond the five-mile mark. I think this map tells the story pretty well.
We're concerned that if these mines come to fruition and uranium enters the main aquifer for the Canyon and the Colorado River, it could destroy a national landmark, hit Native American communities, devastate local tourism — which produces $647 million for the economy each year — and possibly contaminate the primary water sources for nearly 30 million people. That's why we're asking people to contact Congress and support a bill protecting the area from mining; more than 43,500 people have taken action so far.
I was interested to see that National Geographic Traveler magazine and the Christian Science Monitor recently wrote about the abandoned Orphan Mine on the rim of the canyon, where radiation levels have been recorded at 450 times higher than what's considered safe. A warning sign lets backpackers know that they shouldn't drink the water from drainages below the mine.
That's what we're talking about, folks.
The path to protection.
Arizona Rep. RaÃºl Grijalva has been leading the fight in Congress to get permanent federal protection for these lands from future mining efforts. In January he reintroduced the Grand Canyon Protection Act, prohibiting new uranium claims, exploration, and resulting mining across 1 million acres of public-lands watersheds surrounding Grand Canyon National Park. The lands protected by the bill — the Tusayan Ranger District of the Kaibab National Forest south of the Canyon, the Kanab Creek watershed north of the Park, and House Rock Valley, between Grand Canyon National Park and Vermilion Cliffs National Monument — are the last remaining public lands surrounding Grand Canyon National Park not protected from new uranium development.
"Fortunately, there's widespread support from the public as well as political leaders throughout the Southwest for protection of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River.," according to Stacey, who lives and breathes this issue. "All tribal governments in northern Arizona have banned uranium mining on their lands and are opposing renewed mining near the Grand Canyon. "
Concerns about resulting radiological and heavy-metal contamination of surface and groundwater discharging into Grand Canyon National Park and the Colorado River have been expressed by former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, the L.A. Water District, the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the Navajo, Hopi, Havasupai, Hualapai, and Kaibab Piute Nations, and Coconino County. Stacey told me that in Navajo, uranium is called Leetso, or "Yellow
"Uranium was mined on Navajo Territory for over fifty years and the impacts are still felt.," she said. "Thousands of workers have suffered from diseases associated with uranium exposure and the land is still dotted with contaminated tailings and hundreds of abandoned mines. Those living on the Navajo nation are still at risk from mining claims adjacent to Navajo territory. Just as in the 1980s, the Havasupai tribe is committed to fighting uranium mining near the canyon."
You can help. Please take just a few minutes and let your member of Congress know that you support protection for the Grand Canyon from uranium mining. And tell a friend.
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