Killing the Hopi waters

By Vernon Masayesva
Executive Director
Black Mesa Trust

The importance of the aquifer to Hopi and Navajo cultural and spiritual life cannot be overstated.

Sean Patrick Reily's article "Gathering Clouds" in the June 6 2004 issue of the L.A. Times is an excellent account of the struggle of the Hopi and Navajo grassroots people to save the Navajo aquifer, which underlies Black Mesa in Arizona, for further generations of our children.

The importance of the aquifer to Hopi and Navajo cultural and spiritual life, as well as to our basic physical survival cannot be overstated.

But protecting water from corporate exploitation is not just our struggle. It will soon be yours as well as you seek to ensure a safe and affordable water supply for your children and grandchildren.

It is already yours because almost two-thirds of the electricity generated at the Mohave (Generating Station in Nevada) - using coal slurried with N-aquifer water from Black Mesa to Nevada - is bought by California ratepayers.

Since 1922, Arizona has fought vigorously to bring its share of Colorado River water to its growing urban centers. Having won the right to use that water to its growing urban centers. Having won the right to use that water in Arizona v. California (1963), Senator Carl Hayden led the battle to get funding for the Central Arizona Project, designed to bring water through a system of pipelines and canals stretching over 300 miles from the river to the cities. Enormous amounts of electricity would be needed to pump CAP water, which had to be moved uphill over long distances. The initial idea was to build a series of dams in the Grand Canyon to provide hydroelectric power. This plan was abandoned when the Sierra Club and other environmental groups mounted a successful campaign and killed the project. A compromise was born - the Navajo Generating Station located in Page and owned by Arizona Public Service Company, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Salt River P:roject.

NGS, though, would require its own fodder. Hopi and Navajo mineral resources in the form of coal. Enter Peabody Coal Company. In 1966, Peabody, the world's largest coal mining company, purchases the right to mine over 380 million tons of coal underneath Black Mesa.

The co-owners of another power plant, the Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nev., also made sweetheart deals to buy Black Mesa coal. MGS is currently owned by Southern California Edison, Nevada Power Company, Salt River Project, and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

In order to make coal production economical for Peabody in the remote area that is our ancestral homeland, the U.S. government approved the sale of the Navajo-Hopi water to be used in the mining and coal slurry operations at the absurd price of $1.67 per acre-foot (an acre-foot of water is 326,000 gallons).

Further, the federal government, which had and continues to have a trust responsibility in relation to Native Americans, agreed that Peabody would pay the tribes only one-half the amount coal companies were required to pay for coal mined on federal lands. Records recently uncovered show that John Boyden, former attorney for the Hopi Tribe, who single-handedly negotiated the Hopi coal lease with Peabody, was also working for Peabody.

Peabody uses over 1.3 billion gallons of non-renewable pristine water annually for coal slurry preparation and transportation. Black Mesa Pipeline is the only coal slurry pipeline in the United States, and in no possible future will there ever be another here - such a proposal would never survive an environmental impact investigation.

Today, we Hopis and Navajos are noticing our seeps and springs drying up. Sinkholes near the mine are beginning to appear. Hopi hydrologists predict that wells in the village of Moencopi will begin running dry by 2012, and Natural Resources Defense Council has confirmed the concerns and observations of Hopis and Navajo who walk the land daily.

NRDC's study, "Drawdown: Groundwater Mining on Black Mesa" (October 2000), reviewed data reported by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Office of Surface Mining and concluded that there are compelling indications that the aquifer is being overdrawn.

At what point "overdrawn" becomes "permanently and irreparably damaged," no one knows. But there are those who have such blatant disregard for the survival of the Hopi and Navajo cultures that they are willing to find out.

The truth is that political power in the American Southwest lies far from Black Mesa - it lies in the major metropolitan centers of Arizona, California, Nevada, and Colorado. These areas desperately need more water, water for the unnatural seas of grass, artificial lakes and golf courses in a land never designed to sustain a high density population, and electricity to light massive concrete canyons.

This use of more than a billion gallons a year of the small amount of potable water on Earth reflects a water ethic that has not been considered in all of its implications and that cannot possibly be sustainable.

Putting two indigenous cultures at such risk cannot be what California ratepayers want. It is not what they should want, for us or for themselves, because it is our water ethic that has allowed us to survive and thrive in one of the most arid areas on planet Earth.

When the water is gone from Black Mesa, so will be the traditional cultures that could have taught the world so much about living successfully with less.

We ask that you consciously think about the sacredness oof water - all water. If we all bear in our minds and hearts our need for and gratitude for water, we can generate hope and th4e energy that can inform the decisions that we will have to make to save our planet and ourselves from environmental degradation.

The Black Mesa Trust is a nonprofit organization controlled by independent Hopi trustees dedicated to stopping the pumping of water from the Navajo Aquifer for the slurry pipeline from Black Mesa to Nevada. It is not affiliated with the Hopi Tribal Council.

Originally printed in the Navajo Times, June 17, 2004

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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