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April 8, 2010
5:10 PM

CONTACT: Conservation Coalition

Kathleen O'Neil, National Parks Conservation Association, (202) 384-8894 (cell)
Roger Clark, Grand Canyon Trust, (928) 774-7488 (office), (928) 890-7515
Stacey Hamburg, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Chapter, (928) 774-6514
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 310-6713
Carletta Tilousi, Havasupai Tribal Council, (480) 296-3984
Loretta Jackson-Kelly, Hualapai Nation, (928) 380-4429

Tribes, Conservation Groups Tell Congress to Protect Grand Canyon From Mining, Dam Operations, and Other Environmental Threats

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Ariz. - April 8 - Today representatives from the Havasupai and Hualapai tribes will join representatives of conservation groups in voicing united support of legislation proposed by Congressman Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., the Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act, that would permanently protect Grand Canyon's watersheds from new uranium mining. The legislation will be discussed as one part of a two-part joint congressional hearing tomorrow at Grand Canyon National Park; the hearing will also address impacts of Glen Canyon Dam to the Colorado River and endangered native fish.

Spikes in uranium prices have caused thousands of new uranium claims, dozens of proposed exploration drilling projects, and proposals to reopen old uranium mines adjacent to Grand Canyon. Renewed uranium development threatens to degrade wildlife habitat and industrialize now-wild and iconic landscapes bordering the park. Uranium mining also threatens to deplete and contaminate aquifers that discharge into Grand Canyon National Park and the Colorado River. As a result of past mining, the National Park Service now warns against drinking from several creeks in the Canyon exhibiting elevated uranium levels. 

Water levels in the Colorado River, the force that created the canyon, are also a concern. This desert river is the primary source of water for populations in the Southwest and Southern California, and has been a focus of political, legal, and economic maneuvers for almost a century. However, the dams that make that possible have profoundly changed the flows, sediment dynamics, and water temperature of the river through the canyon. This has substantially altered the natural condition of the Grand Canyon and threatens native species and hundreds of archeological sites.

Recognition of these consequences led to the passage of the landmark Grand Canyon Protection Act of 1992 and the implementation of three high-flow experiments and monitoring of Glen Canyon Dam's operations. Despite these steps, the dam operations continue to degrade the park's features and habitat. Recovery will necessitate steady flows that allow sediment to be replenished and a commitment to implementing adaptive management based on results of research.

Testimony will also comment on the continuing lack, after 20 years of work, of rules that control noise in the canyon from commercial air tours and overflights, as well as the lack of funding for the National Park Service to properly maintain and protect the park, which attracts about 4.5 million visitors per year.

The testimony marks years of work on these issues by the participating groups. The proposal to develop uranium mining in particular has provoked litigation, public protests, and statements of concern and opposition from scientists; city officials; county officials, including Coconino County; former Governor Janet Napolitano; state representatives; the Navajo Nation, and the Kaibab Paiute, Hopi, Hualapai and Havasupai tribes; the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California; and the Southern Nevada Water Authority, among others. Statewide polling conducted by Public Opinion Strategies shows overwhelming public support for protecting the lands near Grand Canyon from mining activities; Arizonans support protecting the Grand Canyon area from uranium mining by a two-to-one margin. 

The Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act would permanently protect 1 million acres of public lands surrounding Grand Canyon National Park by prohibiting new mining claims and the exploration and mining of existing claims for which valid existing rights have not been established. The public 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.

In a similar move, the Interior Department in July 2009 enacted a 1-million-acre land segregation order, now in force, and proposed a 20-year mineral withdrawal to prohibit new mining claims and the exploration and mining of existing claims for which valid existing rights have not been established. Despite that segregation, the Bureau of Land Management has allowed mining to proceed at the long-closed Arizona 1 Mine just north of Grand Canyon. The Bureau's failure to update environmental reviews from 1988 prior to allowing the mine to reopen provoked litigation in the fall of 2009 from the Center for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Trust, and Sierra Club. Today those same groups filed a motion in federal court in Phoenix, Arizona, for a preliminary injunction to halt mining activities.



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