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Mine control: Lawmakers try to protect underground water sources from uranium contamination Print

By Pamela Dickman
The Loveland Reporter-Herald
January 17, 2008

Image Robin Davis is worried about the water she, her family and their animals drink.

Their well draws from an underground aquifer from which a Canadian company hopes to mine uranium.

Dr. Cory Carroll, a Fort Collins physician, worries about Davis and the estimated 30,000 people in rural Weld County whose wells connect with the aquifer.

He also worries about the health problems that could be caused if the water is contaminated — in families and through dairy and beef cattle.

Local lawmakers have listened to those concerns and, Wednesday, a panel of Democrats and Republicans from Northern Colorado introduced two bills to the Colorado General Assembly in hopes of safeguarding Colorado’s water from uranium mining.

Sen. Bob Bacon described the proposal as avoiding the irreversible and devastating “whoops.” “Water is the lifeblood of our state,” said John Kefalas, a state representative from Fort Collins. “It’s a resource we must protect. The old laws are not adequate to protect from a toxic and radioactive threat looming over our water and mountains.”

The proposed legislation announced at the state Capitol does four main things:

  • Puts control of mining into the hands of local governments and not just federal officials.
  • Requires companies that apply for a permit to mine uranium through in situ leaching to prove through data from an outside source that it can be done safely. The company must give examples of five other mines that kept water safe during mining and returned it to the same quality after mining.
  • Allows the state Mined Land Reclamation Board to reject applications if members believe mining conflicts with domestic use.
    That provision, Davis said, applies to her and her neighbors because they still need the water during the mining process — a time she and Carroll say it is not safe to drink.
  • Removes secrecy from the prospective stage of mining. Residents could learn when and where companies are testing for future mines — information that is not public in Colorado.
Powertech Uranium Corp., the company that wants to mine uranium 10 miles northeast of Fort Collins, will have no problems meeting, and in many cases already is meeting, the proposed rules, said Haley McKean, who is with the company’s public relations firm.


Powertech’s mining process, company officials say, is clean, and the water will be returned in as good condition as it was before the mining started.

Carroll is not so sure.

The processed water has higher levels of heavy metals, which can be dangerous for those who drink it and deadly for animals who eat grass irrigated with it, Carroll said. The dangers could pass to people through dairy and beef, he said.

“We’re worried about the slow and the minor and the little changes that can occur and migrate,” Carroll said on behalf of the Colorado Medical Society, which opposes the mine in rural Weld County.

“We may not know (the consequences). We don’t want to play with it.”

McKean disputed his assertion. She said plenty of studies and successful mines prove the process is safe.

The talk of health, safety, protecting the economy and the proposed legislation all boiled down to water.

Sen. Steve Johnson, a Republican, pointed to the murals on the walls of the Capitol rotunda. Each depicts a different use of water: nature, gold mining, industry, crops, recreation.

He spoke of the people whose wells are on the aquifer underneath Nunn.

“This land is their life savings,” Johnson said. “They’ve been on the land for many generations. They’re depending on us to protect their life savings.”

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