Surge in Uranium Mining Claims Spurs Concern for Drinking Water Safety

For Immediate Release: 
Friday, June 20, 2008

Las Vegas drinking water potentially at risk

In response to the threat that surging mining claims along the Colorado pose to drinking water in Las Vegas, the General Manager for the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), Patricia Mulroy, sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne requesting that “Interior carefully evaluate the implications for water quality in the Colorado River before authorizing [hardrock] mining operations within its watershed.”  
SNWA provides drinking water to Las Vegas and surrounding municipalities.  
Mining claims within 10 miles of the Colorado River increased dramatically in the past five years, from 2,568 in 2003 to 5,545 in 2008 according to a recent Environmental Working Group analysis of federal government records, Without a Paddle: U.S. Law Powerless to Protect Colorado River From Mining.  Claims within five miles of the river tripled during the same time frame, from 395 to 1,195. Mining is the top source of water pollution in western states and the number one toxic polluter in the country, according to the US EPA.
These thousands of mining claims pose a real threat to the Colorado, and Mulroy noted, “It is important to the SNWA that additional contributions of uranium from new sources be minimized…” 
But without amendments to the current, antiquated federal mining law, the 1872 Mining Act, Kempthorne is virtually powerless to protect the people of Nevada from the inevitable pollution of southern Nevada drinking water that will result if even a small number of these mining claims are developed. 
As Mulroy notes, uranium mining pollution already “contribute(s) measurable quantities of that contaminant to the Colorado River near Moab.”  This pollution, coupled with low water levels due to drought will exacerbate the level of radionuclides in the water supply for “2 million residents and 40 million visitors” in southern Nevada.   
The Environmental Working Group is a strong advocate for reform of the 1872 Mining Act and has published numerous analyses since 2004 on the threats that increased mining claims pose to national parks, rivers, and municipalities throughout the West.  Major reforms of the mining law passed the House in the fall of 2007, but have bogged down in the Senate.  

“The fate of southern Nevada’s drinking water is in the hands of the US Senate, which has an opportunity to reform mining law to protect critical western resources like the Colorado River,” said Richard Wiles, Executive Director of Environmental Working Group.  “Without mining reform some of these claims will turn into mines, and the source of drinking water for greater Las Vegas will be polluted even further with mining runoff,” Wiles added.


Without a Paddle: U.S. Law Powerless to Protect Colorado River From Mining SNWA General Manager’s letter to Secretary Kempthorne.


EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. EWG’s analysis of drilling and mining on public lands can be found at: