Central Arizona Project – <br>Robbing Black Mesa to Fuel Phoenix<br>

For a long time now, water, oil, uranium and natural gas wars have been fought on the battleground we know as the state of Arizona. Today, (August 14, 2001) on this historic occasion, courageous Hopi runners concluded a grueling 4-day run bringing a message and asking that you join with them in the fight for water – the fight for life.

This battle has been political, fought by politicians and corporations who stood to gain great wealth, at a great cost to the indigenous people of this state, at great cost to those of us who may not have enough to survive the future.

The war began as early as 1922, when states with claims to water from the mighty river signed the Colorado River Compact. By the 1940s, Senator Carl Hayden of Phoenix entered the battle. He became the principle architect of the Central Arizona Project (CAP).

Having won the right to use the water from the Colorado River in Arizona v. California, Hayden led the battle for funding of the proposed CAP, which could allow the state to use water through a system of pipelines and canals stretching over 300 miles from the Colorado River to Phoenix and on into Tucson.

CAP would deliver 1.2 million acre-feet of water a year. Because the project would force water uphill through the mountains, an enormous amount of electricity would be needed. The initial idea was to build a series of dams in the Grand Canyon to provide hydroelectric power for CAP. This was abandoned when the Sierra Club mounted a successful national campaign to kill the project. A compromise was born. We call it the Navajo Generating Plant (NGP) located in Page, Arizona. It is owned by Arizona Public Service Company and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

NGP would require its own fodder – coal. Enter Peabody Coal Company. In 1966, Peabody, the world’s largest coal mining operation purchased 380 million tons of coal to be mined underneath Black Mesa – the home of Navajo and Hopi people. The energy produced by NGP was dedicated to CAP.

The owners of another source, the Mojave Generating Station, also made sweetheart deals to use Black Mesa coal. Unlike NGP, which receives coal by electric rail, the coal to MGP is delivered through a slurry pipeline, which uses 3.3 million gallons each day. Salt River Project is one of the principal owners of the MGP.

In order to make coal production in a remote area economical, the owners of the generating plant won the right to purchase acre-feet of water for $1.67 per acre-foot. The price of coal was reduced to a fraction of the cost of coal sold on federal lands. Navajos were coerced to waive posessory and severance taxes and the right to their share of the Colorado River for at least 50 years.

Today the Hopi and Navajo, who walk the land, are noticing seeps and springs drying up. Hydrologists now predict that within 20 years some of the Hopi village will no longer have water. The Bush-Cheney energy plan will accelerate this process.

The truth is, the political power in the state of Arizona lies far from Black Mesa, home of the Navajo and Hopi people. Phoenix, where the power does lie, desperately needs more energy – water for the unnatural seas of grasses and golf courses, to water a high-density population in a land never designed to sustain it and electricity to light its massive concrete canyons. These great cities stretch beyond the boundaries of Arizona into the neighboring states – and they are ravenous. All of this opulence and greed is sustained at the cost of the earth mother. It’s a lifestyle that deserves to survive. It is important to know that when water is gone from Black Mesa it will be found elsewhere, perhaps in your own community.

Today, over 30 years later, Peabody continues to pump 4,000 acre-feet annually from an ancient non-renewable aquifer that is the only source of potable water for the Hopi and Navajo peoples. Mining is expected to continue for another 35 years. By the time mining ends over 80 billion gallons of water will be gone. Water enough to sustain the entire Hopi population of 8,000 for 5000 years.

Leonard Selestewa

President, Black Mesa Trust

PO Box 33

Kykotsmovi, Arizona 86039

(520) 734-9255


Comments are not posted immediately. Submissions must adhere to our Use of Service Terms of Use agreement. Rambling or nonsensical comments may not be posted. Comment submissions may not exceed a 200 word limit, and in order for us to reasonably manage this feature we may limit excessive comment entries.

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.