By Marley Shebala
WINDOW ROCK — Just as Grandma
Marjorie Thomas finished her walk to the Navajo Nation
capital, residents of
three chapters announced the start of a trek under
the banner, “Water is Life.”
Their goal is not to raise money but public awareness.
They believe Navajo Nation officials are putting important
groundwater reserves at risk in an effort to keep the
Black Mesa Mine operating.
The residents want the Navajo Nation Council to oppose
efforts by President Joe Shirley Jr.’s administration
to allow what they call is exploitation of the aquifer
under their homes.
Council Delegate Leonard Chee (Leupp/Birdsprings/Tolani
Lake) said Wednesday that residents of Leupp, Canyon
Diablo, Hardrock and Black Mesa will start walking
and riding horses from their communities to the council
chamber next week.
Chee said the group from Leupp and Canyon Diablo
will begin their trek to the capital in the early morning
hours of July 14.
The group from Black Mesa and Hardrock plans to start
at noon in July 15 from Pinon Chapter, he said.
Chee said both groups plan to meet July 16 at the
Ganado, Ariz., rodeo grounds, where they will camp
and hold a rally before continuing to Window Rock.
When they reach the capital July 17, the groups plan
to camp at the tribal fairgrounds and then walk and
ride to the council chamber July 18, he said.
The council meets in its annual summer session July
18 to 22.
Chee said the groups are trekking to call attention
to the apparent lack of concern by some elected leaders,
especially Shirley and Vice President Frank Dayish
Jr., about the millions of gallons of water being pumped
off the reservation from drought-stricken areas.
“We feel the Shirley-Dayish administration
are not understanding what the people are saying because
haven’t given any feedback to the people,” Chee said.
Residents of Leupp and Canyon Diablo have told Shirley
that they oppose his plans to use water from the Coconino
Aquifer to slurry coal from the Black Mesa Mine to
the Mohave Generating Station, 273 miles to the west,
Called the C-aquifer, the groundwater reserve underlies
Leupp and nearby chapters extending to Flagstaff and
Winslow, Ariz. Both off reservation communities draw
water from it.
Under a lease with the Navajo Nation, Peabody Coal
Co. has been strip-mining coal from two operations
on Black Mesa, the Black Mesa and Kayenta mines, for
the past 30 years.
As part of the lease agreement, Peabody has also been
pumping about 1.3 billion gallons of water annually
from the Navajo Aquifer which lies beneath Black Mesa
and stretches south to the Hopi Reservation, for its
Black Mesa residents long blamed Peabody’s operations
for the desiccation of springs and shallow wells in
the area, and in 2004 the council agreed that the pumping
had to stop. It ordered Peabody to stop using the N-aquifer
by the end of 2005.
Peabody contends that it uses only a tiny fraction
of the water stored in the N-aquifer, and that dry
wells and springs are the consequence of prolonged
drought conditions. The company says scientific research
has shown the aquifer is not connected to surface waters.
Shirley said, “There’s every opportunity
in the world that the Mohave Generating Station will
not shut down
if certain things happen.”
He cited as examples the resolution of coal lease
issues, and questions about the quantity and quality
of C-aquifer, as key to keeping the power plant open.
Shirley said he signed a memorandum of understanding
in January 2004 with the owners of the Mohave Generating
Station, the Hopi Tribe and the U.S. Department of
the Interior to conduct a study of the C-aquifer water.
Chee said that as the walk/ride makes its way to Window
Rock next week, participants would also be picking
up trash along the road.
“We just don’t want to go to Window
Rock to complain,” he said. “We want to be an example
take care of our Mother Earth.”
found in the July 7, 2005 edition of the Navajo