June 12, 2008
When House Bill 1161 -- the Land and Water Stewardship Act -- was signed into law by Gov. Bill Ritter on May 20, I was relieved for a short period of time.
This legislation places restrictions and qualifications on uranium mining companies that propose to mine groundwater via the in-situ leach (ISL) process. The body of ground that I am most concerned with is the Denver Basin Aquifer System, which supplies drinking water to 500,000 to 700,000 Coloradans.
Any joy I felt with the signing of the new law was short-lived because of a comment by one of the uranium company's officers. He said, "Now Colorado has the world's strictest laws covering this mining method, but we can live with it." He went on to say that he and his company planned to lobby the state regulators who are now charged with establishing rules and regulations to enforce the provisions outlined in HB 1161. He further stated that the company would "work with state mining regulators to develop workable rules and regulations for ISL mining."
When I read this, I immediately made a few calls. I discovered that, indeed, the formulation of these rules and regulations is not a "closed-door" process. Regulators apparently will be looking for input from citizens and industry officials.
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The intent of this legislation can be summed up by a quote from James Miller, a hydrologist from the Denver Water Authority, when testified before the Senate Finance Committee: "We at Denver Water want this body of legislators to understand that we highly recommend that you formulate the strictest laws possible to protect the groundwater in the Denver Basin Aquifer System, which includes the Larimer Fox Hills Aquifer in Northern Colorado." He further said, "Do not place at risk the present condition of this valuable water resource by weakening the law you are making to protect it."
These mining companies have also said they will lobby future legislative sessions to change this law.
This law would not have passed without the heroic efforts of state Reps. John Kefalas, Randy Fischer and state Sens. Bob Bacon and Steve Johnson. We need to ensure that these gentlemen are re-elected this November.
The individual members of Coloradoans Against Resource Destruction (CARD) have spent much of their own time and money in the past year to make the public aware of the historic dangers of ISL mining. Now they need to raise the funds to pay for these "expert witnesses," and they need your support.
Colorado mining regulators, we will be watching for the results of your efforts to produce rules and regulations to enforce the intent of the HB 1161 legislation.
Consider becoming a volunteer for CARD. We cannot lower our guard now!
Howard Williams is a retired federal manager for Veterans Affairs who has lived in Weld County for the past nine years.