Protesters urge protection for Navajo groundwater
 
By Marley Shebala
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK – A group of about 50 people braved Monday’s unusually windy and chilly weather, waving signs and chanting “No more secret deals! No more water steals!” over the two miles from the Window Rock mini-mall to the Navajo Nation Council Chambers.

Their slogan referred to a confidential deal, details of which became public xx weeks ago that would allow use of a new water source, the Coconino Aquifer, to slurry coal from the Black Mesa Mine to Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nev. The proposal, a copy of which was leaked to reporters, also would allow continued use of the Navajo Aquifer until a new pipeline is completed to tap the C-Aquifer.

The draft agreement, dated March 7, was negotiated in closed-door sessions by Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr., Navajo Attorney General Louis Denetsosie, several Navajo council delegates and representatives from the Hopi Tribe, Peabody Western Coal Co., Navajo Generating Station, and Southern California Edison, majority owner of the Mohave power plant.

Several parties to the negotiations have disavowed the leaked document, saying that it does not represent the current state of their discussions. However, the proposal confirmed the worst fears of community members who oppose using either aquifer to slurry coal.

Both the Navajo and Hopi tribal councils passed resolutions to ban further industrial use of the N-Aquifer, on which Black Mesa communities depend for drinking water. The proposed agreement would lift the ban until infrastructure is in place to exploit the C-Aquifer.

Many of the demonstrators, who ranged in age from infants to 90-year-old elders, carried signs opposing any move to rescind the ban.

The N-aquifer lies under Black Mesa and the C-aquifer lies under the Leupp, Ariz. area.

The C-Aquifer For Diné, based in Leupp, organized Monday’s demonstration with support from several other local and national environmental groups, including the Indigenous Environmental Network, Tó Nizhoni Aní (Beautiful Water Speaks), Diné CARE (Citizens Against Ruining the Environment), Dooda (no) Desert Rock, Save the Peaks, and the Sierra Club.

Calvin Johnson, C-aquifer For Diné president, said Leupp and other western Navajo communities have been clear and unswerving in their opposition to putting the groundwater to use in a coal slurry. They have passed resolutions and have repeatedly appealed to Shirley not to trade the misuse of one water source for the misuse of another.

Shirley keeps smiling

As the marchers gathered in front of the tribal council chamber, Shirley arrived to give his spring State of the Nation address to the council. A Shirley aide, offended by one sign, took it away from its xx-year-old owner, and disappeared inside with it (see separate story).

The tribal president appeared not to notice the incident and never stopped smiling as he made his way through the crowd, pausing to shake hands several times and even hugging a few demonstrators.

But he ignored questions aimed at him via bullhorn by Enei Begay of the Indigenous Environmental Network, who asked for an end to secret negotiations and a public report on the status of the talks.

Begay’s group is part of the Just Transition Coalition, which is pushing for profits from closure of the Mohave plant to be spent on Navajo and Hopi communities impacted by the related closure of the Black Mesa Mine, which supplied the plant, Mohave closed in December and must remain closed until it installs about $1 billion in emissions control equipment.

The coalition contends that the tribes should not suffer because of the legal and political battles surrounding Mohave’s long defiance of federal clean air standards.

In January, coalition members filed a “Just Transition Plan” with California utility regulators, who oversee Southern California Edison. Edison earned thousands of “pollution credits” when it shut down Mohave, and could sell them for a profit.

The coalition wants to would divide revenues from the sale of those credits between the Navajo and Hopi communities impacted by the coalmine. Some of the money would go to develop clean-energy production in the area.

The California Public Utilities Commission has scheduled a hearing Thursday, April 27, in San Francisco on the Just Transition Plan. The coalition also has been presenting the plan to committees of the Navajo Nation Council, and hopes the council will pass a supporting resolution.

The Shirley administration opposes the plan, and has urged the CPUC to reject it on grounds that it would interfere with the negotiations between the tribes and the utility and coal mine operators.

On Monday, Marshall Johnson, co-founder of Tó Nizhoni Aní, also used the bullhorn to ask Shirley – in Navajo – if he would open up the secret negotiations and allow the public to hear Denetsosie’s report to the council.

Shirley ignored his questions and entered the council chamber.

That was in the morning.

Shirley meets protesters

In the late afternoon, Shirley met with eight representatives from the C-aquifer For Diné, Just Transition Coalition, and Dooda Desert Rock.

Johnson, who attended the meeting, said Shirley again sidestepped questions about opening the negotiations involving the C-aquifer and supporting environmentally friendly development.

Specifically, the group asked him to support the Just Transition Plan and to halt the proposed Desert Rock Power Plant.

Desert Rock is a $2 billion deal between Diné Power Authority and Sithe Global Power of Houston to build a 1500-megawatt power plant on Navajo land. Sithe, which would build and operate the plant, claims that it would use a state-of-the-art design that would emit little or no pollution.

The generating station would be located south of Shiprock and would burn coal from the nearby Navajo Mine. It would be located in Nenahnezad Chapter, which supports the project.

Next door, however, Burnham Chapter voted overwhelmingly against Desert Rock, giving rise to Dooda Desert Rock, a grassroots group critical of the proponents’ claims.

Vice President Frank Dayish Jr. spoke to demonstrators during a luncheon Monday following the march, and encouraged them to support Desert Rock. He said it would be the first coal-fired power plant to be totally under the control of the Navajo Nation.

However, in a series of rapidly spoken statements that surprised many listeners, Dayish went on to acknowledge that there is no such thing as clean coal development, saying that he had been wrong to support coal development.

But, he said, that’s why people need to support Desert Rock, because the Navajo Nation would be able to maintain complete regulatory control and prevent pollution.

Although Shirley was cordial to the demonstrators, he did not grant their request to make public the status of the Black Mesa-Mohave negotiations. As he met with them, his attorney general was briefing the tribal council in a closed-door session.

Denetsosie has maintained that no comment on the negotiations is possible because all the parties signed a confidentiality agreement. He said the talks are continuing despite a recent announcement by Edison that it has dropped its efforts to reopen Mohave on an interim basis.

 

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originally found in the hard copy of the Navajo Times, 20 April 2006

 

 

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Reprinted under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law. posted without profit or payment for non-profit research, educational, and archival purposes only.

 

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[Please note the "studies" on the C-Aquifer, one called Groundwater Flow Model of the C Aquifer in Arizona and New Mexico, prepared by S. S. Papadopulos & Associates, Inc., described as "prepared for the Salt River Project on behalf of the use of Mohave Generating Station Co-Owners." This is a very large pdf file, so it may take some time to download, depending on your connection. The other is the USGS "study." This is a much smaller file with a very auspicious sounding title, "Numerical Ground-Water Change Model of the C Aquifer and Effects of Ground-Water Withdrawals on Stream Depletions in Selected Reaches of Clear Creek, Chevelon Creek, and the Little Colorado River, Northeastern AZ."]

 

 

 

 

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posted 25 april 2006 by louve14