The Fight To Protect The Grand Canyon From Uranium Mining, And Millions From Dangerous Pollution

The Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is one of the most breathtaking sites on the planet, but its uranium-rich rocks are also of interest to foreign and domestic mining companies who are looking to claim mining sites in and around the park and begin extracting immediately.

If these companies move forward with their mining plans, countless plant and animal species will be in grave danger, and drinking water for the indigenous Native American tribes whose reservations are located near the area could become badly polluted.

As the Center for Biological Diversity reports, uranium mining bores deep into vertical rock formations called “breccia pipes,” making uranium soluble to groundwater and risking pollution to Grand Canyon’s biologically rich springs. Because uranium mining is not consistently profitable, mining operations may be abandoned for decades at a time — without any oversight or continued maintenance of the work area.

Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the United States.
Source: Adobe Stock/nikolas_jkd
Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the United States.

Large drilling sites, tailing piles and mines are often left behind — leading to leaks into groundwater, dispersal of airborne uranium pollution and dust, and unsafe conditions for recreational visitors to public lands.  Manmade ponds containing uranium-contaminated water are left uncovered and used by native birds and other wildlife. These mines affect habitat for more than 100 sensitive species, including mule deer, mountain lions, imperiled California condors and highly endangered native fish. Groundwater pollution has the potential to seep into underground aquifers used for drinking water and into seeps and springs that are the lifeblood for animals in the arid Grand Canyon region.

If and when these old mines are cleaned up, the cost burden usually falls on the American public.

The Grand Canyon region is of incalculable value to Northern Arizona and the Havasupai and other Native American tribes.
Source: Adobe Stock/aiisha
The Grand Canyon region is of incalculable value to Northern Arizona and the Havasupai and other Native American tribes.

Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most popular national parks in America, and is of incalculable value to Northern Arizona and the Havasupai and other Native American tribes, the Wilderness Society reports.

The Havasupai have been in the Grand Canyon region for 800 years, and the groundwater-fed springs that they rely on for drinking water would be under threat by uranium contamination.

“We are one of the smallest tribes in Arizona, basically fighting for our existence and our lifestyle,” Carletta Tilousi of the Havasupai Tribal Council told the Grand Canyon Trust.

The Grand Canyon Protection Act could protect more than a million acres adjacent to the national park from future uranium mining.
Source: Adobe Stock/Aliaksei
The Grand Canyon Protection Act could protect more than a million acres adjacent to the national park from future uranium mining.

“While Americans are still holding the bag from the last time the government prioritized uranium mining, research has underscored the erratic nature of groundwater flow in this region,” said Amber Reimondo, energy program director of the Grand Canyon Trust, which supports the bill. “Uranium mining near the Grand Canyon amounts to little more than an unnecessary gamble of a sacred landscape, a worldwide wonder and a primary driver of the Northern Arizona economy.”

In 2012, the secretary of the interior put a temporary stop to uranium exploration by issuing a 20-year ban on new uranium mines on 1 million acres of public lands surrounding the Grand Canyon. As the Grand Canyon Trust reports, the ban gives scientists time to study the risks and potential impacts on scarce groundwater sources and communities of plants and animals.

The Grand Canyon region is home to many plants and animals.
Source: Adobe Stock/rolffimages
The Grand Canyon region is home to many plants and animals.

As of October 2020, there were still over 600 active mining claims on national forest and other public lands around the Grand Canyon, but legislation is working its way through Congress to permanently stop new uranium mining around the park.

The Grand Canyon Protection Act could withdraw more than a million acres adjacent to the national park from future uranium mining while leaving existing claims intact, KNAU reports, and was reintroduced by Arizona Democratic Congressman Raul Grijalva in Feb. 2021.

Support the Grand Canyon Protection Act and protect this national landmark!
Source: Adobe Stock/ronnybas
Support the Grand Canyon Protection Act and protect this national landmark!

According to azcentral, the measure was previously debated in Congress in 2019 but failed to advance in the Senate. The pressure to pass this bill is even greater, as our environment’s future may hang in the balance.

“[This] action by the U.S. House of Representatives is a big step forward,” said Mike Quigley, Arizona state director for The Wilderness Society. “Contamination from uranium mining poses a very real threat to local communities, critical water sources and one of our nation’s most treasured landscapes. We now look to the Senate to finish the job by passing permanent protection for the Grand Canyon region.”

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