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Pacific Southwest, Region 9

Serving: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands, 148 Tribes


Protecting Tribal Lands

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Shiprock on the Navajo Nation.
Advisory issues by the DiNEH Project and NNEPA warning citizens not to drink from uranium contaminated wells.
Torres Martinez Solid Waste Collaborative billboard
collaborative logos 1collaborative logos 2collaborative logos 3
Torres-Martinez Collaborative logos
Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indian Reservation, illegal dump site.
tohon o'odham nation mine waste repository construction
Tohono O’odham Nation, mining waste repository construction at Cyprus Tohono Mine.
Washoe Tribe of California and Nevada, lime treatment system for acid mine drainage at Leviathan Mine, Nevada.
Yerington-Paiute Tribe, fluid drainage pond repair and closure at Anaconda Mine, Nevada.
Shoshone-Paiute Tribe of Duck Valley, remainder of ore mill at Rio Tinto Copper Mine, Nevada
Navajo Nation, remediation and demolition of contaminated structures.
Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, cleanup celebration and prayer at brownfields site. Pictured: Lois Kane, Tribal Member and Arlen Melendez, Tribal Chair.
Before and after cleanup on the Havasupai Reservation.
The new Pala Transfer Station and Recycling Center after completion; Pala Transfer Station recycling sign – California certified buy-back center (left).
Big Pine Paiute Tribe’s community cleanup event.
Greening and Waste Reduction elements at Chumash Casino, Santa Ynez, California: white reflective roof, energy efficient hand dryers and comprehensive waste recycling program.
Davis Chevrolet cleanup. The building at the former site has been removed and the cleanup is proceeding.

Collaboration: Multi-Agency Efforts to Better the Environment

Navajo Nation Abandoned Uranium Mines: 5-Year Plan

From 1944 to 1986, nearly four million tons of uranium ore were extracted from Navajo lands under leases with the Navajo Nation. As a result, uranium mining has left the Navajo Nation with a legacy of 520 abandoned uranium mines (AUM), four inactive uranium milling sites, a former dump site, contaminated groundwater, structures that may contain elevated levels of radiation, and environmental and public health concerns.

In October 2007, Congressman Henry Waxman of California called the legacy of uranium mines on the Navajo Reservation “a 40-year bipartisan failure of government”. In January 2008, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform directed five federal agencies – EPA, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Department of Energy, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Indian Health Service – to begin working together to attack the problem. EPA took the lead in coordinating these agencies to develop a five-year plan to address contaminated homes, wells, mine sites, mills, and dumps. After consulting with the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe, a five-year plan was finalized in June 2008.

Navajo Nation and EPA Remove Radioactive Structures, Investigate Uranium Mines

Under EPA’s five-year plan to address uranium contamination associated with the 520 abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation, the Superfund program is focusing on the health and environmental impacts of mines and potentially contaminated structures. EPA is concerned that structures, including homes and hogans, may have been constructed with radioactive materials from mines. In Spring 2008, EPA completed radiation surveys at 113 structures on 56 home sites. The Agency worked closely with Navajo Nation EPA, chapter officials, and residents to identify and survey contaminated structures. EPA found elevated levels of radiation at 27 structures and in 12 yards. In Summer 2008, EPA began cleanup of the contaminated structures. The Agency is demolishing and replacing structures and providing temporary lodging, animal care, and areas for cultural ceremonies. Structures and yards will be remediated by November 2009.

In 2008, U.S. EPA also worked with Navajo Nation EPA and Navajo Nation Abandoned Mine Lands Program to prioritize the 520 mines by geographic area. U.S. EPA visited more than 80 mine sites in the Navajo Nation Eastern Agency in 2008 to find out whether they pose a risk to residents. U.S. EPA is also completing detailed assessments of five mine sites of greatest concern to the Navajo Nation. In 2009, U.S. EPA will complete an evaluation of cleanup options and propose a cleanup plan for the worst mine site on the Navajo Nation – the Northeast Church Rock Mine site, located in the Eastern AUM Region northeast of Gallup, New Mexico.

In 2008, the U.S. EPA and the Navajo Nation EPA also focused on the urgent issue of uranium-contaminated water sources. Approximately 30% of the Navajo population does not have access to a public drinking water system and may be using unregulated water sources that are contaminated with uranium. U.S. EPA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control tested 249 unregulated water sources, and found that 22 exceeded drinking water standards for radioactive contaminants. As a result, U.S. EPA and the Navajo Nation EPA have launched an aggressive outreach campaign to inform residents of the dangers of drinking contaminated water. In addition, EPA and Indian Health Service (IHS) constructed a drinking water system with a regulated water hauling point to serve residents impacted by four contaminated wells in the Black Falls area. EPA is temporarily delivering bottled water to two particularly remote households in this area, which rely solely on contaminated wells for potable water, until water line extensions are complete.

Torres Martinez Solid Waste Collaborative

The Torres Martinez Solid Waste Collaborative, a stakeholder group consisting of the tribal government and 25 federal, state, and local entities, recorded a number of accomplishments in 2008. The collaborative’s mission is to clean up and prevent illegal dumping on the Torres Martinez Reservation. In 2008, the tribe and the collaborative cleaned five more dump sites, for a total of 25 clean sites, and conducted follow-up inspections at several local trailer parks. In addition, the collaborative explored green business opportunities for economic development based on existing regional waste streams, such as tires, concrete, and green waste.

EPA’s Brownfields program completed two targeted brownfields assessments this year at two former dump sites on the reservation, to evaluate their potential for reuse. At the Tayawa property, which was formerly used for illegal dumping and burning of agricultural wastes, EPA conducted sampling to determine whether levels of contamination posed a risk for future use and developed recommendations for cleanup. At the Ibanez property, EPA’s contractors analyzed reuse options for two large piles of biosolids and dredged material. Results from both assessments were presented to the tribe in August 2008.

Improving Conditions at Trailer Parks on Tribal Lands

EPA is also coordinating with the tribe, USDA, IHS, the State Water Board, and the local water district to develop long-term improvements to drinking water and wastewater systems on the reservation. EPA, BIA, and the California Department of Housing conducted a waste inspection of a trailer park and found evidence of solid and hazardous waste violations. EPA issued a notice of violation to the allotment owner, who cleaned up the site.

Superfund Works in Partnership with Tribes to Clean Up and Redevelop Contaminated Lands

EPA’s Superfund Division works in partnership with tribal nations to investigate, clean up and redevelop contaminated sites that impact tribal lands. To accomplish this, EPA performs cleanup work directly and gives grants to tribes to establish cleanup programs, conduct assessment and cleanup work, and oversee cleanup activities. In 2008, EPA Region 9’s Superfund Division managed 16 grants with nine different tribes, totaling $3 million. EPA also conducted investigation and cleanup work at 13 tribal sites in 2008, affecting nine different tribes.

Superfund Works with Tribes to Clean Up Mines

At the Cyprus Tohono Mine, a copper mine on the Tohono O’odham Nation, extensive mine waste remained at the site and groundwater was contaminated with uranium. In 2008, EPA oversaw a $19 million cleanup that involved moving mine waste into a new lined repository. The Cyprus Tohono Company finished moving approximately one million cubic yards of material into the repository in November, 2008. Vegetation will be planted on the repository cover and the former mining area over the next three years. Cyprus Tohono, in consultation with EPA and the tribe, is investigating groundwater contamination and is expected to enter into an agreement with EPA for groundwater cleanup in 2009.

The Leviathan Mine site is an abandoned, open-pit sulfur mine that has contaminated mountain creeks and the Washoe Tribe of California and Nevada's land. EPA is focused on controlling and cleaning up acid mine drainage at this site. The Agency worked with Atlantic Richfield, the successor to the original mining company at the site, to improve a lime treatment system that treats acid mine drainage so that the water can be safely released to the creek. This system treated about six million gallons of acid mine drainage in 2008, and improvements will allow the system to operate later into the winter. Two other treatment systems are operating year-round at the site, using biological treatment or capturing the waste in large storage ponds for summer treatment. EPA is also working with the Washoe Tribe to conduct a Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study to ensure a protective and reliable long-term cleanup.

The Anaconda Mine is an open-pit copper mine that impacts Yerington-Paiute Tribal land in Nevada. At this site, fluid collection ponds containing acidic waters and heavy metals are leaking and threaten groundwater. In 2008, EPA closed five fluid drainage ponds and repaired two active ponds.

At the Rio Tinto Copper Mine, EPA and the Shoshone-Paiute Tribe of Duck Valley are negotiating with the state of Nevada and the responsible mining companies to remove mining wastes in Mill Creek and protect the Owyhee River from acid mine drainage. EPA anticipates reaching a settlement and starting cleanup of the mining wastes in 2009.

Brownfields Program – Tribes Revitalize Contaminated Lands

In 2008, EPA provided grants to the Navajo Nation, Gila River Indian Community,Tohono O’odham Nation, Yurok Tribe, and Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community to establish and enhance their Brownfields cleanup and response programs. The Navajo Nation is using this funding to develop laws and procedures to conduct and oversee cleanups on Navajo land.

Under a Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund grant from EPA to the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony received a nearly $1 million loan in 2008 to clean up a contaminated site in downtown Reno. This is the first Brown-fields loan made to a tribal nation in the Pacific Southwest. The site was contaminated with lead, petroleum and pesticides from previous industrial operations. The Indian Colony excavated and disposed of contaminated soil from the site as part of the cleanup. Once the site is remediated, it will be reused to house a major retailer. Revenues from the retail operation will help repay bonds that funded construction of the brand new Reno-Sparks Indian Colony Health Center, which serves 9,000 Native Americans in the area. Revenues from the retail development at the Brownfields site will also fund the construction of a new restitution center for low-risk offenders, and provide funding for the local school district.

Solid Waste

Improper disposal of both household trash and hazardous waste threaten tribal lands in the Pacific Southwest.

In 2008, tribes tackled these hazards by developing household hazardous waste, composting and recycling programs, improving solid waste program infrastructure by building transfer stations, and conducting outreach and community cleanup events. Additionally, tribes closed 72 open dumps in 2008, significantly improving the health and well-being of their communities.

Havasupai Tribe

One particularly noteworthy dump cleanup was a large historic dump site on the Havasupai Reservation on the rim of the Grand Canyon. This collaborative project was funded by the Indian Health Service and the tribe, with technical assistance and funds to address current solid waste program development provided by EPA. More than 433 tons of waste were removed, almost all of which were diverted from landfill disposal through recycling. Recycling this material significantly cut disposal costs and helps to reduce the climate impacts from landfilling.

Green Building

In collaboration with the Regional Tribal Operations Committee, EPA started a new tribal green building initiative. One of the significant first steps was to develop a partnership with West Coast Green to give tribal representatives the opportunity to attend, free of charge, the country’s largest green building and innovation conference. EPA worked with the conference to organize a Tribal Summit to give tribes a chance to engage in the national green building dialogue, network with industry professionals, and provide input for how future green building conferences can better address the interests and visions of tribes.

Transfer Stations

Tribes and EPA made significant improvements in solid waste infrastructure in 2008. Several tribes built new transfer stations, including the La Jolla Band of Luiseno Mission Indians and the Pala Band of Mission Indians. The Pala Transfer Station opened in May 2008. Tribal funding was used for construction, and EPA funding will be used for expansion projects such as the new used oil and household hazardous waste programs.

The Pala Band of Mission Indians also obtained California state certification for a buy-back center allowing for the purchase of recycled items such as aluminum, glass, cardboard, paper, and metal from the surrounding areas. The recycling program has helped discourage illegal dumping while bringing in revenue.

Community Cleanups

In 2008, many tribes worked within their communities to encourage involvement in solid waste projects through community cleanup days, Earth Day celebrations, and other outreach events. The Hopland Band of Pomo Indians of the Hopland Rancheria held a very successful community cleanup in northern California. The Tribal Environmental Protection Agency, with funding from EPA and Keep California Beautiful, coordinated over 250 community volunteers for the event. The tribe recycled two tons of metal, 96 tires, eight car batteries, 900 pounds of glass, 300 pounds of aluminum, and 230 pounds of plastic during the event. Thirty bags of used clothing were collected and donated to a local charity.

Green Casinos

In 2008, EPA and tribes partnered to expand the green casino program through workshops, presentations, direct technical assistance, and free pollution prevention and energy efficiency audits. The Chumash Casino Resort, operated by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Mission Indians, has done significant work to implement numerous green programs, including the installation of a white roof to reflect sunlight to keep the building cooler, the development of an impressive waste sorting program which includes the collection of recyclables as well as the collection of food for composting, and the pilot testing of new ultra-efficient hand dryers to save paper. The tribe hopes to go even further by recycling their used food grease into biodiesel to run tribal vehicles.

Underground Storage Tanks

The EPA Underground Storage Tank program had a very successful year. EPA and tribes conducted 67 joint compliance and release detection inspections in 2008. These inspections resulted in 25 field citations. The field citations are issued on the spot at the conclusion of the inspection. The owner or operator obtains immediate feedback on the violations discovered and the actions they need to correct. The typical field citation ranges from $600 to $1,000 per site. The EPA Underground Storage Tank Program also addressed a number of leaking underground storage tanks sites on tribal lands (see chart). In addition, 15 leaking underground storage tank cleanups were completed.

Davis Chevrolet, Arizona

One notable cleanup is the Davis Chevrolet facility in Tuba City, Arizona. This site is the largest leaking underground storage tank cleanup in the Pacific Southwest Region and affects both the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe. In 2008, cleanup measures were initiated at the site and almost 1,000 cubic yards of contaminated soils were removed. Additionally, 12 recovery wells were installed to remove the contamination by pumping and treating the shallow groundwater. After the cleanup is completed, the site will be the home of a new retail center.

Lost Lake, Arizona

In 2008, EPA worked collaboratively with the Colorado River Indian Tribes’ Environmental Protection Agency to inspect the underground storage tanks at the Lost Lake Resort, a non-tribal business on the reservation. With the tribe’s support, EPA pursued an enforcement action against the owner for violations, including a fuel leak. The site is adjacent to important tribal resources, including the Colorado River and two drinking water wells. The owner paid a $55,076 penalty, corrected all violations, and has initiated cleanup of the site. Fortunately, the inspectors discovered the leak in time to prevent drinking water resources from being contaminated.

Cumulative number of LUST sites in each state of the federally-funded cleanup process
Cleanup at Lost Lake Resort. | EPA and tribal inspectors at Lost Lake Resort.

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