Guest Commentary<br>Hopi, Navajo water crisis continues

Many Hopis remember when Moencopi wash in northern Arizona on the Hopi Indian Reservation was healthy, when the springs that watered our gardens were plentiful. Today we sense a tragedy occurring. Dozens of spring have dried up. Moencopi wash, where children once swam and played, is now bone dry, and underground water levels are dropping dramatically.

Our elders warned that a tragedy is occurring beneath us, which is caused, they believe, by the massive water mining by Peabody Coal Company. But no one is listening. Instead, our protector, the U.S. Federal Government is telling us that the deep aquifers that fed our springs are health and that the pumping of pristine water from the dry desert plateau is not causing damage to our only source of drinking water.

Yet the most recent (1997) U.S. Geological Survey Black Mesa Water Monitoring Report states that recharge to the confined Navajo aquifer is only 2,500-3,500 acre feet per year. Peabody, which began to slurry Black Mesa coal in 1970, is extracting 4,000 acre feet annually from this aquifer. Hopi hydrologists projected that at the present rate of municipal and industrial pumping, all deep wells in the Hopi communities alone will run dry by the year 2010.

Many factors have contributed to the crisis. Most are buried in the details of the history of Black Mesa coal leasing. The facts paint a picture of deceit, violations of federal and tribal laws, conflict of interest, sloppy science, blatant exploitation of indigenous peoples and deliberate failure of the United States government to honor its legal and moral obligation to protect our land and water.

We were never told the truth about the enormous quantity of water needed to slurry coal to an electric generating plant 273 miles away from our homeland on Black Mesa or the initial sale of ice-age water for $1.65 per acre-feet, or that our attorney was representing Peabody Coal Company at the same e time he was negotiating the coal lease on our behalf. We were assured that a vast sea of water underlies Black Mesa and that Peabody will use only “one cup” during the life of its mine, which could go on for another 40 years.

The U.S. Office of Surface Mining (OSM), which oversees the Peabody mining operation, has never explained to the public the standard they have established to determine damage to our water resources. Furthermore, after 20 years of water monitoring by the U.S. Geologic Survey, we have yet to receive a report analyzing hundreds of pages of scientific to determine whether material damage can be identified based on OSM’s damage criteria.

We cannot turn back the clock. What has happened is history, albeit a history still unfolding. But we can end the abuse. Whatever the cause and however far along the damage, it is clearly the case that if we don nothing our only potable water will be severely and permanently degraded. Our society and the future generation of our children are at risk; it is for them that we appeal to you for help.

If you wish to support our effort to end the continued abuse of the N-aquifer for coal slurry operation write to the Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C. 20240. if you wish to organize Black Mesa Trust support group, contact Vernon Masayesva, Director, Black Mesa Trust, 7617 E. Verde Lane, Scottsdale, AZ 85251 or e-mail Hopi.Friend@aol.com

—Vernon Masayesva

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