Category Archives: Grand Canyon

Agency rejects proposal to build mega resort project next to the Grand Canyon


Katrina Garvin Shadix's photo.

One of the most revered natural landscapes in America, the Grand Canyon, scored a major victory yesterday when the U.S. Forest Service shot down a company’s proposal to build a sprawling mega resort one mile from the iconic National Park.

This sprawling urban development would have included 2,100 housing units, hotels, a spa and conference center, effectively turning the Grand Canyon into a mega resort. As Earthjustice attorney, Ted Zukoski, who worked on the issue put it, “This is a great day for Grand Canyon National Park, and those who love its stunning vistas, abundant wildlife, and rich cultural heritage.”


Mercury finds its way into Grand Canyon

Arizona Daily Sun

Mercury in Grand Canyon
August 25, 2015 3:45 am  •  EMERY COWAN Sun Staff Reporter
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It was almost three years ago that mercury levels in fish in Lake Powell spurred state regulators to issue a fish consumption advisory for striped bass.

Now, new research shows that mercury, as well as selenium, aren’t staying put in Lake Powell, but are slipping past Glen Canyon Dam and ending up in everything from algae to bugs and fish downstream.

The U.S. Geological Survey study found that concentrations of mercury and selenium in Colorado River food webs of the Grand Canyon regularly exceeded risk thresholds for fish, wildlife and even humans.

Despite being one of the most remote ecosystems in the country, the river as it flows through the Grand Canyon isn’t immune to exposure from toxic chemicals like mercury, the U.S. Geological Survey said in a release about a new study. Exposure to high levels of both elements has been linked to decreased reproductive success, growth and survival of aquatic and terrestrial species in the ecosystem, according to the USGS.

Likely sources include naturally occurring selenium deposits as well as air pollution containing mercury generated as much as half-a-globe away.


Based on data collected at six sites along nearly 250 miles of river downstream from Glen Canyon Dam, the researchers found that the mercury and selenium concentrations in minnows, invertebrates and fish exceeded dietary toxicity thresholds set for fish and fish-eating wildlife. It also found that the mean mercury concentrations in many of the fish studied exceeded the risk threshold for humans.

The one piece of good news is that the mercury levels found in rainbow trout, most commonly eaten by anglers, were still below the threshold set by the Environmental Protection Agency that would trigger advisories for human consumption, according to a USGS summary of the study.

“Every fish we looked at from Glen Canyon was way below any risk threshold and the fish we looked at downstream were way below that threshold as well, so it doesn’t appear to be any risk to humans through consumption of trout,” said Ted Kennedy, a USGS researcher at the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center in Flagstaff, who was a co-author on the study.

There are no consumption advisories in place for any of the fish harvested from the study area.

The study was the first of its kind that looked at the extent and magnitude of contaminants in the Grand Canyon, Kennedy said. The study focused on trout, because they are most likely to be consumed by humans, but it also looked at five other species of fish including the threatened speckled dace, common carp and flannelmouth sucker, a species of special concern under the state of Arizona.

The study makes clear that more research needs to be done, especially related to potential risks to humans who consume fish from Grand Canyon or Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, according to the paper.


It also produced some surprising findings, Kennedy said.

One was the fact that the tissues of bigger rainbow trout didn’t exhibit greater, or even the same, mercury levels as smaller trout, defying the process of biomagnification, where chemical concentrations increase higher up the food chain, Kennedy said. The explanation lies in the unique dynamic of the Grand Canyon ecosystem, Kennedy said.

Insect food sources for fish are quite limited in the Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam, most likely due to temperature and flow regimes of the regulated river, Kennedy explained. While smaller fish can satisfy their caloric needs by eating just insects, there aren’t enough of the invertebrates to make up the entire diet of larger fish, forcing them to feed on other less calorie-dense organic matter like algae, Kennedy said.

The catch is that blackflies, a key food source for trout, are also a prime source of mercury contamination because they eat a type of algae that carries high amounts of a bioavailable form of mercury.

“We think (the mercury) is getting picked up by that algae in Lake Powell and exported into Grand Canyon,” Kennedy said.

Another interesting part of the study was that the researchers didn’t observe any developmental side effects like deformities that are normally associated with mercury, which is a neurotoxin.

That finding is evidence of a well-documented relationship between selenium and mercury whereby, in the right concentrations, selenium protects animals from mercury toxicity, Kennedy said.

“If both of these things are at high levels together, it can mitigate effects of having just one of them in a high concentration,” he explained.

Tracing mercury sources

Kennedy also recognized that the U.S. Geological Survey’s food web study opens up the need for additional research into exposure pathways in order to figure out where exactly the mercury and selenium ending up in the Grand Canyon are coming from.

While selenium concentrations come from irrigation of selenium-rich soils in the upper Colorado River basin, most mercury found in the Grand Canyon ecosystem is deposited from the atmosphere, the USGS paper said. That means it is harder to trace to a specific source, though.

Artisanal and small-scale gold mining and then coal combustion are the two largest anthropogenic sources of mercury emissions, according to the EPA. Environmental groups have pointed to the Navajo Generating Station and other coal-fired power plants around Lake Powell as prime culprits for mercury deposition on the lake.

The USGS study does acknowledge the power plant, which emits 420 pounds of mercury per year, according to the National Parks Conservation Association, as one potential source, but it emphasizes that’s certainly not the only likely offender.

“Navajo Generating Station is a potential source, but there’s a lot of atmospheric mercury out there even before you consider Navajo,” Kennedy said.

Linking mercury contamination in Lake Powell, or in the Colorado River Basin, to specific sources is difficult because it remains in the atmosphere for up to six months after it is initially emitted, said David Gay, coordinator of the National Atmospheric Deposition Program. That’s long enough for mercury emitted in one place to waft up into the atmosphere and then get carried hundreds or thousands of miles, Gay said.

University of Nevada-Reno researcher Mae Gustin has studied the sources of mercury that ended up in California and Nevada and came to findings similar to Gay. Several of Gustin’s research papers found that atmospheric mercury sources were lofted pollution from California’s major cities or air that traveled from as far away as Asia, which is the biggest source of mercury globally.

“Mercury is a global pollutant,” Gay said. “Everybody is in it together.”

Emery Cowan can be reached at (928) 556-2250 or

Geologist Predicted EPA Would Intentionally Poison Animas River A Week Before Toxic Spill

The Free Thought

By John Vibes on August 12, 2015



Silverton, CO — Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spilled over a million gallons of toxic waste into the Animas river in Colorado. This is, of course, ironic considering the fact that the EPA is the government organization that typically prosecutes people for crimes against the environment. In this case, however, the EPA has declared that they are above the law and free from any type of fines or prosecution.

The waste was spilled from an abandoned mine shaft and has now contaminated large stretches of water and connecting rivers that reach into various bordering states. Over 3 million gallons of wastewater containing a number of toxic chemicals is now destroying untold miles of precious waterways.

To make matters even worse, the EPA actually had a warning about this a week prior to the disaster. A week prior to the spill, retired geologist Dave Taylor wrote a letter to the editor in “The Silverton Standard” pointing out that the EPA was planning a maneuver that could potentially cause toxins from mineshafts to flood into rivers. He also suggested that the EPA was aware of the possible outcomes, and were going forward with the plan anyway to gain funding.

In the letter, Taylor wrote:

“But make no mistake, within seven days, all of the 500gpm flow will return to Cememnt Creek. Contamination may actually increase… The “grand experiment” in my opinion will fail.

And guess what [EPA’s] Mr. Hestmark will say then?

Gee, “Plan A” didn’t work so I guess we will have to build a treat¬ment plant at a cost to taxpayers of $100 million to $500 million (who knows).

Reading between the lines, I believe that has been the EPA’s plan all along.”

The full letter can be read below:




The EPA actually has no concern for the environment, they just happen to use the environment as a cover story to create laws and gain an advantage for the companies that lobbied for exemptions to the agency’s regulations, and to collect money in fines. There are real solutions outside the common government paradigm, and that is mainly the ability for individuals, not governments, to hold polluters personally and financially accountable

John Vibes is an author, researcher and investigative journalist who takes a special interest in the counter culture and the drug war. In addition to his writing and activist work he organizes a number of large events including the Free Your Mind Conference, which features top caliber speakers and whistle-blowers from all over the world. You can contact him and stay connected to his work at his Facebook page. You can find his 65 chapter Book entitled “Alchemy of the Timeless Renaissance” at



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6/28/2012 Gallup Independent: Forest Service approves mine near Grand Canyon By Kathy Helms Dine Bureau

6/28/2012 Gallup Independent Forest Service Approves Mine Near Grand Canyon“>

5/8/2012 Carlos W. Begay, Sr. & Marsha Monestersky letter to Mr. James Anaya: US government theft of Black Mesa, HPL

5/4/2012 Yahoo News: U.S. must heal native peoples' wounds, return lands

5/4/2012 Yahoo News: U.S. must heal native peoples’ wounds, return landsUNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United States must do more to heal the wounds of indigenous peoples caused by more than a century of oppression, including restoring control over lands Native Americans consider to be sacred, a U.N. human rights investigator said on Friday.

James Anaya, the U.N. special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, just completed a 12-day visit to the United States where he met with representatives of indigenous peoples in the District of Columbia, Arizona, Alaska, Oregon, Washington State, South Dakota, and Oklahoma. He also met with U.S. government officials.

“I have heard stories that make evident the profound hurt that indigenous peoples continue to feel because of the history of oppression they have faced,” Anaya said in a statement issued by the U.N. human rights office in Geneva.

That oppression, he said, has included the seizure of lands and resources, the removal of children from their families and communities, the loss of languages, violation of treaties, and brutality, all grounded in racial discrimination.

Anaya welcomed the U.S. decision to endorse the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2010 and other steps the government has taken, but said more was needed. His findings will be included in a final report submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council. While not binding, the recommendations carry moral weight that can influence governments.

“It is clear that this history does not just blemish the past, but translates into present day disadvantage for indigenous peoples in the country,” Anaya said.

“There have still not been adequate measures of reconciliation to overcome the persistent legacies of the history of oppression, and that there is still much healing that needs to be done,” he said.

In Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, where some Native Americans depend on hunting and fishing, Anaya said tribes face “ever-greater threats … due to a growing surge of competing interests, and in some cases incompatible extractive activities, over these lands and resources.”

“In Alaska, indigenous peoples complain about a complex and overly restrictive state regulatory apparatus that impedes their access to subsistence resources (fish and wildlife),” he said.


Mining for natural resources in parts of the country has also caused serious problems for indigenous peoples.

“Past uncontrolled and irresponsible extractive activities, including uranium mining in the Southwest, have resulted in the contamination of indigenous peoples’ water sources and other resources, and in numerous documented negative health effects among Native Americans,” he said.

He said indigenous peoples feel they have too little control over geographic regions considered sacred to them, like the San Francisco Peaks in Arizona and the Black Hills in South Dakota. Anaya suggested such lands should be returned to Native peoples.

“Securing the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands is of central importance to indigenous peoples’ socioeconomic development, self-determination, and cultural integrity,” Anaya said.

“Continued efforts to resolve, clarify, and strengthen the protection of indigenous lands, resources, and sacred sites should be made,” he added.

Mount Rushmore, a popular tourist attraction, is located in the Black Hills, which the Sioux tribe consider to be sacred and have territorial claims to based on an 1868 treaty. Shortly after that treaty was signed, gold was discovered in the region. U.S. Congress eventually passed a law taking over the land.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1980 that the seizure of the land was illegal and ordered the government to pay compensation. But the Sioux rejected the money and has continued to demand the return of the now public lands.

Anaya said he will make specific recommendations on these and other issues in a full report later this year.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

4/19/2012 Congress letters prompted by 3/31/2012 New York Times article : Uranium Mines Dot Navajo Land, Neglected and Still Perilous

3/31/2012 New York Times article: Uranium Mines Dot Navajo Land, Neglected and Still Perilous

Joshua Lott for The New York Times An abandoned uranium mine on the Navajo reservation in Cameron, Ariz., emits dangerous levels of radiation. By LESLIE MACMILLAN Published: March 31, 2012

“If this level of radioactivity were found in a middle-class suburb, the response would be immediate and aggressive,” said Doug Brugge, a public health professor at Tufts University medical school and an expert on uranium. “The site is remote, but there are obviously people spending time on it. Don’t they deserve some concern?”

Navajo advocates, scientists and politicians are asking the same question.

The discovery came in the midst of the largest federal effort to date to clean up uranium mines on the vast Indian reservation. A hearing in 2007 before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform led to a multiagency effort to assess and clean up hundreds of structures on the reservation through a five-year plan that ends this year.

Yet while some mines have been “surgically scraped” of contamination and are impressive showpieces for the E.P.A., others, like the Cameron site, are still contaminated. Officials at the E.P.A. and the Department of Energy attribute the delay to the complexity of prioritizing mine sites. Some say it is also about politics and money.

“The government can’t afford it; that’s a big reason why it hasn’t stepped in and done more,” said Bob Darr, a public relations specialist for the environmental consulting firm S.M. Stoller, which does contracting work for the Department of Energy. “The contamination problem is vast.”

If the government can track down a responsible party, he said, it could require it to pay for remediation. But most of the mining companies that operated on the reservation have long since gone out of business, Mr. Darr said.

To date, the E.P.A., the Department of Energy and other agencies have evaluated 683 mine sites on the land and have selected 34 structures and 12 residential yards for remediation. The E.P.A. alone has spent $60 million on assessment and cleanup.

Cleaning up all the mines would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, said Clancy Tenley, a senior E.P.A. official who oversees the uranium legacy program for the agency in the Southwest.

Some say the effort has been marred by bureaucratic squabbles and a tendency to duck responsibility. “I’ll be the first to admit that the D.O.E. could work better with the E.P.A.,” said David Shafer, an environmental manager at the energy agency.

Determining whether uranium is a result of past mining or is naturally occurring is “a real debate” and can delay addressing the problem, Mr. Shafer said. He cited seepage of uranium contaminants into the San Juan River, which runs along the boundary of the reservation, as an example. “We need to look at things like this collectively and not just say it’s E.P.A.’s problem or D.O.E.’s problem,” he said.

E.P.A. officials said their first priority was to address sites near people’s homes. “In places where we see people living in close proximity to a mine and there are elevated readings, those are rising to the top of the list for urgent action,” Mr. Tenley said.

Agency officials said they planned a more thorough review of the Cameron site — which still has no warning signs posted — within the next six months.

Meanwhile, Navajos continue to be exposed to high levels of radioactivity in the form of uranium and its decay products, like radon and radium. Those materials are known to cause health problems, including bone, liver, breast and lung cancer.

Lucy Knorr, 68, of Tuba City, Ariz., grew up near the VCA No. 2 mine operated by the Kerr-McGee Corporation, now defunct. Her father, a former miner, died of lung cancer at age 55 in 1980, and her family received a payout of $100,000 under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, a law that was enacted after her mother hired a lawyer and testified before Congress.

The program has awarded $1.5 billion for 23,408 approved claims since it was enacted in 1990.

Ms. Knorr’s father was one of hundreds of Navajos who did not wear protective gear while working in the mine. “He’d wash at a basin outside” after leaving the mine, she said, “and the water would just turn yellow.”

The government has been successful in tracking down and holding some former mining companies accountable. The E.P.A. is requiring that General Electric spend $44 million to clean up its Northeast Church Rock Mine, near Gallup, N. M. Chevron is paying to clean up the Mariano Lake Mine, also in New Mexico.

When the government cannot locate a responsible party, which is most often the case, the E.P.A. and the Department of Energy work with the tribal authorities to reach cleanup decisions. In general, the E.P.A. handles mines, while the Energy Department is responsible for the mills where the ore was processed and enriched.

One of the Department of Energy’s biggest priorities is a billion-dollar uranium mine cleanup that is under way in Moab, Utah, and that received $108 million in federal stimulus money and the backing of nine congressmen.

Some Navajo officials point out that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed a 20-year moratorium on new uranium and other hard-rock mining claims on one million acres of federal land around the Grand Canyon in January, saying it was needed to preserve the mile-deep canyon and the river that runs through it. The mining industry is challenging that decision in court.

But the Navajo Nation, considered a sovereign government entity, has not gotten similar treatment from the federal government for its land, some of its officials say. The nation has asked for $500 million for mine cleanup, but the money has not materialized, said Eugene Esplain, one of two officials with the Navajo E.P.A. responsible for patrolling an area the size of West Virginia.

Taylor McKinnon, a director at the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group that worked to halt new mining claims near the Grand Canyon, said the Cameron site was the worst he had seen in the Southwest. He has even seen cow droppings near the mine, he said, an indication that cattle are grazing there. And “people are eating those livestock,” he said.

Ronald Tohannie, a project manager with the Navajo advocacy group Forgotten People, said the locally grown beef was tested at the slaughterhouse, but not for the presence of radioactive substances like uranium.

When E.P.A. officials in the California office overseeing the region were asked to accompany a reporter to the Cameron mine site, they countered with an offer to visit the Skyline Mine in Utah, on the northern boundary of the reservation in Monument Valley, where a big federal cleanup was completed last October.

The onetime mine, atop a 1,000-foot mesa, provides a sweeping panorama of the red valley below. Just one tiny dwelling is visible, the packed-earth hogan of Elsie Begay, a 71-year-old Navajo woman. Ms. Begay was featured in a series of articles in The Los Angeles Times in 2006 about serious illnesses that several of her family members developed after living in the area for many years.

The publicity “might have bumped the site up the priority list,” said Jason Musante, who oversaw the $7.5 million cleanup of the mine for the E.P.A.

In trailers and cinder-block dwellings on the Navajo reservation, there is deep cynicism and apprehension about the federal effort. “That’s what they want you to see: something that’s all nice and cleaned up,” said the Navajo manager of a hotel near the Skyline mine. He asked not to be identified, saying that he had already come under government scrutiny for collecting water samples from the San Juan River for uranium testing at a private lab.

For some Navajos, the uranium contamination is all of a piece with their fraught relationship with the federal government.

“They’re making excuses, and they’ve always made excuses,” Ms. Knorr said. “The government should have had a law in place that told these mining companies: you clean up your mess when you leave.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 27, 2012

An article on April 1 about concerns over radioactivity levels around former uranium mines on Navajo territory in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico referred imprecisely to Bob Darr, a public relations specialist who said that the federal government cannot afford to clean up all the mines. While he works for S.M. Stoller, a consulting firm that provides public affairs support to the Department of Energy under contract, he is not a spokesman for the department.

For years, unsuspecting Navajos inhaled radioactive dust and drank contaminated well water. Many of them became sick with cancer and other diseases.

The radioactivity at the former mine is said to measure one million counts per minute, translating to a human dose that scientists say can lead directly to malignant tumors and other serious health damage, according to Lee Greer, a biologist at La Sierra University in Riverside, Calif. Two days of exposure at the Cameron site would expose a person to more external radiation than the Nuclear Regulatory Commission considers safe for an entire year.

Joshua Lott for The New York Times Larry Gordy discovered the mine on his land in 2010, but it has not been cleaned up yet.

The E.P.A. filed a report on the rancher’s find early last year and pledged to continue its environmental review. But there are still no warning signs or fencing around the secluded and decaying site. Crushed beer cans and spent shell casings dot the ground, revealing that the old mine has become a sort of toxic playground.

Joshua Lott for The New York Times At a mine in Cameron, Ariz., the radioactivity levels exceeded Geiger counters’ scales.

CAMERON, Ariz. — In the summer of 2010, a Navajo cattle rancher named Larry Gordy stumbled upon an abandoned uranium mine in the middle of his grazing land and figured he had better call in the feds. Engineers from the Environmental Protection Agency arrived a few months later, Geiger counters in hand, and found radioactivity levels that buried the needles on their equipment. The abandoned mine here, about 60 miles east of the Grand Canyon, joins the list of hundreds of such sites identified across the 27,000 square miles of Navajo territory in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico that are the legacy of shoddy mining practices and federal neglect. From the 1940s through the 1980s, the mines supplied critical materials to the nation’s nuclear weapons program.

Joshua Lott for The New York Times Lucy Knorr says her father’s death was related to his work at the mine.

4/27/2012 Media Release: Forgotten People go to United Nations to secure human right to housing and water

4 27 2012 FP Media Release Right to Water and Housing“>

4/27/2012 Statement of Leonard Benally to Mr. James Anaya, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, OHCHR

4 24 2012 Leonard Benally_Speaker FP_Self Mr James Anaya“>