Grijalva Touts USGS Findings, Demonstration that Grand Canyon Withdrawal is Working, Calls for Permanent Withdrawal

Washington, D.C. – Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) today hailed the release of a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) report on uranium impacts to groundwater in the Grand Canyon region. The report found generally low concentrations of uranium but did identify uranium hotspots near active and abandoned uranium mining sites. 

Sampling sites in the Horn Creek Area, downstream from the abandoned Orphan Lode Mine, showed uranium concentrations nearly 10 times the Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contaminant level for drinking water. The Horn Creek Area and the abandoned mine are both within the boundaries of Grand Canyon National Park and close to popular hiking and camping areas, including Bright Angel Trail and Indian Garden Spring.

The USGS study is a partial response to the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) 20-year withdrawal of the region from new mining claims, which was driven by uncertainties regarding mining’s groundwater impacts. 

“Uranium mining near the Grand Canyon is a threat to Arizona’s water, tribal communities and the Colorado River,” said Grijalva. “House Democrats have passed my bill to permanently protect this area multiple times and now the Senate needs to follow suit. I’m counting on my colleagues to help make that happen. The good news is that the twenty-year mining moratorium has protected us, other than communities near already polluted legacy sites, and we have a chance to make that protection permanent.”

Uranium mining threatens to contaminate groundwater resources in the region and the Colorado River, which is the primary water source for more than 40 million Americans. Regional communities, including the Havasupai, Hualapai, Navajo, Hopi, and Kaibab Paiute tribes and the Grand Canyon Village at Grand Canyon National Park rely solely on groundwater to meet their needs, and agricultural and industrial users in the Southwest need uncontaminated Colorado River water to survive.

While the Grand Canyon region has seen commercial interest in uranium mining since the mid-20th century, interest rose in 2007 when the price of uranium reached historic highs and hundreds of speculatory mining claims were filed. 

In response to the threat posed by new mining efforts, Chair Grijalva began a decade-long effort in 2008 to protect the Grand Canyon watershed from uranium mining with the introduction of the Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Actand a field hearing at the Grand Canyon. These efforts in turn helped lead to the decision by then-Secretary Ken Salazar in 2012 to withdraw more than 1 million acres around the Grand Canyon from new uranium mining claims for a 20-year period, during which federal officials would assess the long-term implication of permitting mining. 

The Trump administration frequently suggested ending the moratorium in order to advance economically non-viable mining in the region. To address this threat, Chair Grijalva introduced and swiftly moved the Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act (now the Grand Canyon Protection Act), which passed the House three times last Congress. The bill has already passed the House twice this Congress, once as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act and once as Title VIII of H.R. 803, the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act.

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