Grand Canyon watershed may get a reprieve from mining

Grand Canyon

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We have all seen it—the pictures, postcards, or movie scenes that feature the glowing beauty of the Grand Canyon. The steep-sided red canyon walls have mystified some and have piqued the curiosity of many.  It has been and remains beloved by people all over the world. The Grand Canyon continues to face threats though. Potential uranium mining in the area could change the ecosystem for decades to come.

Now thanks to an Obama Administration effort, more than 1 million acres in and around the Grand Canyon have been set aside for protection from uranium mining for the next 20 years. 

Mining claims in and around the Grand Canyon watershed have grown tremendously over the past several years, as prospectors began to take note of the high uranium concentration combined with growing prices for the hard rock- putting the natural beauty and unique waters of the Colorado river at risk.

Since 2009, The Wilderness Society and our partners like the Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club, and Center for Biological Diversity have been following a proposal by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to place a 20 year ban on new mining claims on sensitive public lands adjacent to the Grand Canyon.

The Administration recently released their final Environmental Impact Statement, proposing to bar all new mining and exploratory drilling within existing claims near three major watersheds that drain directly into the Grand Canyon. The plan would allow for a small number of existing uranium and other hard rock mining operations to continue. When the Interior Department issues their final Record of Decision in late November or December, we are confident they will find the needed balance between mining interest in our country and the valuable watershed and ecological role the Grand Canyon plays.

The National Park Service, county officials, local water interests, wildlife agencies, and advocates support the 20 year moratorium on mining in the region but also recognize that Congress will need to act to see long term protections for the Canyon. Until then, the Grand Canyon’s advocates have won a minor victory but the battle doesn’t end there.

Proposed legislation by Republican Congressmen would block the Interior Department from carrying out their duties to manage our public lands properly and could block the moratorium.

On the other side of the issue, Congressman Raul Grijalva has introduced a bill, the Grand Canyon Watersheds Protection Act, that would codify the administration’s withdraw. Valid existing claims within the Canyon watershed could still be mined, but if the rights to those are relinquished or acquired by the U.S. government, the property would be permanently withdrawn from mining.

The Grand Canyon Watershed Protection Act would ensure permanent protection from mining, long beyond the Obama Administration’s 20 year mining. Grijalva's bill currently sits in the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, as does the GOP sponsored bill. 

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