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Interior decision protects tourism, water quality in Southern Nevada



Conservationists and business owners from Southern Nevada joined their counterparts in the West today to applaud the Obama administration’s decision to place a 20-year moratorium on new uranium mining near the Colorado River.

The decision, announced today by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, protects the drinking water supply of some 30 million users, including more than 2 million in metropolitan Las Vegas and millions more who depend on the Colorado River for drinking water and vegetable-crop irrigation.

The decision also protects the Grand Canyon National Park, the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and other national recreational and environmental assets along the Colorado River that provide the basis for a $700 million economic engine in tourism.

Sportsmen, farmers and ranchers, leadership from several American Indian tribes, water agency managers and elected officials at all levels were among those who opposed opening up areas near the Colorado River to new uranium mining. Abandoned mining and milling operations are already implicated in pollution of the river with toxic and radioactive waste products, including uranium, selenium, ammonia, arsenic and other metals. And once in the river, those elements can contaminate aquatic ecosystems for hundreds of years.

Scot Rutledge, Nevada Conservation League executive director, noted that Southern Nevada gets its drinking water from the Colorado River, downstream of proposed mining operations.

“Businesses, conservationists and government agencies agree– protecting this water resource means protecting our community’s health. The Colorado River is not something Las Vegans are willing to gamble on,” Rutledge said. “The Interior Department is putting the safety and health of our community first, and we applaud Secretary Salazar and President Obama for their leadership.”

Outdoor recreation and habitat also will benefit from the decision.

“I applaud President Obama’s and Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar’s decision to extend the moratorium another 20 years on new mining claims in a million-acre buffer zone around the Grand Canyon,” said Alan O’Neill, former superintendent of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and former co-manager of the Grand Canyon Parashant National Monument, from Las Vegas. “Additional mining in this area could result in serious adverse impacts to the Grand Canyon, a World Heritage Site and one of America’s most prized national assets.”

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