MWDSC chairman praises moving uranium tailings from Colorado River's banks

Southern California's largest provider of drinking water lauds federal decision to move "mountain" of tailings by the U.S. Department of Energy, which clears the way for removal of 11.9 million tons of radioactive uranium waste in Moab, Utah, that leaks an estimated 28,000 gpd of contaminated water into a major drinking water supply for millions of people in the Southwest...

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 15, 2005 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- The chairman of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California today heralded a U.S. Department of Energy decision that clears the way for removal of 11.9 million tons of radioactive uranium mill tailings from the banks of the Colorado River at Moab, Utah.

Wes Bannister also praised the collective efforts of U.S. Reps. Grace Napolitano (D-Santa Fe Springs), Bob Filner (D-Chula Vista) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Los Angeles) who helped spearhead efforts that ultimately led to U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman's Wednesday announcement that DOE plans to move, mostly by rail, the mountain of tailings to a site more than 30 miles from the Colorado River.

"It was truly a Herculean bipartisan effort that brought together state and congressional leaders throughout the Southwest to protect our vital natural water resources and the environment," Bannister said.

"What a year or two ago was still a topic of discussion and study has now become a firm commitment by DOE to move the Moab tailings," he said. "Not too long ago, there was still consideration of covering it and leaving it in place. So this is a very welcome announcement."

The radioactive mountain -- 110 feet high and covering about 130 acres -- leaks an estimated 28,000 gallons of water with hazardous chemicals and radioactive contamination a day into the Colorado River.

The Colorado River is a major source of drinking water to 18 million Southern Californians, as well as millions more living in Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico. Although no radioactive material has been detected in water coming to Southern California, Metropolitan and its member agencies contend that leaving the waste pile next to a major drinking water source presented an unacceptable risk to human health.

"Metropolitan pursued this move for many years because we knew, in great detail, how dangerous a threat the uranium tailings posed to a primary source of Southern California's drinking water," said MWD's Chief Executive Officer Dennis B. Underwood. "It demonstrates what effective working relationships can accomplish. In this case, it has involved effective coordination with the state of Utah, member of Congress, federal agencies and other interested parties.

"While we now can breathe a sigh of relief, the focus of these partnerships must shift to obtaining the necessary appropriations to complete the tailings removal at the earliest possible time," Underwood said.

The origin of the uranium tailings is the defunct Atlas Corporation mill at Moab, which processed uranium ore for various defense and government purposes for 28 years before closing in 1984. Mill tailings were dumped in an unlined pond, and eventually totaled 10.5 million tons. Atlas Corporation filed for bankruptcy in 1998. In 2001 Congress transferred responsibility for cleanup of the Moab site and vicinity to DOE.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (www.mwdh2o.com) is a cooperative of 26 cities and water agencies serving 18 million people in six counties. The district imports water from the Colorado River and Northern California to supplement local supplies, and helps its members to develop increased water conservation, recycling, storage and other resource-management programs.

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