Riders push to end Peabody's pumping of N-Aquifer

By Marley Shebala
The Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK | July 18, 2002

According to traditional Navajo history, the Navajo people are made from four elements of life and water is one of them.

Nicole Horseherder, who took part in a 115-mile horseback ride from Forest Lake, Ariz. to the Navajo Nation's capital to protest the use of water by Peabody Coal Company, said on Monday that the people of Black Mesa have been going to the local springs to make their traditional offerings and prayers since the beginning of time.

But now the elders don't see any water coming from the springs, Horseherder said.

She said the young adults and youth from the community started gathering reports and research, including one from the Black Mesa Trust, a nonprofit group working to stop Peabody's use of the N-Aquifer, on what is causing natural springs in the area to go dry.

Horseherder said they found out that Peabody is pumping 4,400 acre-feet of water a year from the Navajo Aquifer (N-Aquifer).

That amount of pumping exceeds the natural ability of the N-Aquifer to recharge itself, she said.

Horseherder said Peabody has been pumping out water for the past 30 years and that's contaminated and destroyed the aquifer.

It can't be fixed, she added.

Peabody mixes the water with coal from Black Mesa to transport the coal to the Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nev., through a 270-mile slurry pipeline, she said.

Marshall Johnson, who also rode from Forest Lake, made a comparison of Peabody's water use and the community's use.

Johnson said residents on and around Black Mesa haul water in 55-gallon barrels.

If Peabody used 55-gallon barrel to haul the 4,400 acre-feet of water that is taken annually from the N-Aquifer, they would need 26 million barrels.

Horseherder said Peabody uses three times more water than all the communities around Black Mesa.

She said one of their community leaders, Hard Rock Chapter President Percy Deal, advised them to educate other communities in the Navajo language about how Peabody's massive use of the N-Aquifer is drying up local springs and wells.

Horseherder said the Black Mesa Trust recommended that they organize their informal group of young adults, youth and elders into an official association. They are now called To'nizh Oni'Ani', which means "water use for the future."

She said the people, especially the elderly and the youth, were "moved" by their presentation.

Horseherder said the people talked about what needed to be done to save their water and they decided that Peabody's water permit had to be terminated.

She said the Hopi Tribe, after strong pressure from Black Mesa Trust and other Hopi people, recently terminated an agreement with Reliant Energy of Houston, Tex., for a proposed coal-fired generating plant on Hopi lands.

Black Mesa Trust member Becky Masayesva said on Wednesday that Reliant reported that the proposed coal-fire generating plant would use less water than Peabody, but the people didn't believe that.

Masayesva said the Black Mesa Trust was created by her husband, former Hopi Chairman Vernon Masayesva.

She said the Hopi people also rely on the N-Aquifer and they are pushing the Hopi Tribe not to renew Peabody's water permit when it expires in 2005.

Horseherder said Peabody is destroying a way of life, which is a violation of basic human rights.

Johnson reiterated that the damage can't be reversed.

He showed several color photographs of sinkholes that were growing larger and connecting.

Horseherder said their research showed that Peabody's enormous pumping of water from the N-Aquifer was creating the sinkholes.

She said what makes her really sad is she doesn't know how to comfort the elders, who used to see the springs flowing as they made their offerings.

"I can't imagine what they feel," she said.

Johnson is sponsoring proposed legislation to the Navajo Nation Council to terminate Peabody's water permit with support from the Chinle Agency Council and the chapters of Tuba City, Pinon, Forest Lake, Hard Rock, Low Mountain and Kayenta.

The council is in their summer session, which is from July 15 to 19.

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