"In 1967, my father took me and eight of my brothers and sisters on a whitewater trip down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park. We camped on its massive sandbars, swam in its silty waters and explored the ancient geology of this iconic American landscape. He wanted us to experience the river and to understand the benefits that stem from our nation’s commitment to protecting its inspiring natural treasures.
I had these ideas in mind when I took my own daughter, Kick, down the Grand Canyon 40 years later, in 2007. We joined my old friend, the great anthropologist Wade Davis, and his daughter Tara. Davis was working on a book, and the four of us were guests of Imax cinematographer Greg MacGillivray, who released his film about our journey, Grand Canyon Adventure: River At Risk, in 2008.
The trip, book and film focused on the myopic water management policies that led to the construction of the two giant dams that bookend the Grand Canyon – Glen Canyon Dam and Hoover Dam – and the environmental devastation they’ve wrought.
We weren’t aware, at that time, of another insidious threat facing the Canyon’s fragile ecosystems and the people who depend on them: uranium mining. As rock climbing phenom Alex Honnold pointed out here in the Guardian last May in a bold call to protect our public lands, the Grand Canyon is at once grappling with contamination from past mining and threatened by proposed new mining.
Uranium’s boom-and-bust history has left hundreds of abandoned mines leaching toxic contaminants into this desert region’s vital water sources. In 2010, the US Geological Survey found that 15 springs and five wellswithin the Grand Canyon’s watershed had dangerous levels of uranium “related to mining processes”.