Leupp, Black Mesa, Hardrock unite to protect aquifers


By Marley Shebala
Navajo Times

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 they 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, he said.

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 coal slurry.

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 of our message, take care of our Mother Earth.”


         Originally found in the July 7, 2005 edition of the Navajo Times

Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law. http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.html