Running Water, running for life on the Hopi Mesas

MOENKOPI—In the arid southwest, water is serious business. Arizona communities are among the fastest growing in the United States, and water is the single most important resource that will guarantee their continued survival.

The Navajo and Hopi Nations are no different. In the next 40 years, the populations of these two nations will explode. In the Black Mesa area alone, the population is expected to increase from 68,750 to 234,200. Already, springs have vanished and washes flow with decreased vigor.

The Hopi villages, and some Navajo communities as well, rely on a single source for all their water needs—the Navajo Aquifer (N-Aquifer). The aquifer is sizable, an estimated 5,400 square miles—the size of the state of Connecticut—and approximately 800 feet deep.

The water, an estimated 16,000 to 35,000 years old, is incredibly pure, and these two factors—purity and quantity—made the water a perfect choice for Peabody Coal Company, looking for a way to transport coal from Black Mesa to the Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nevada, some 273 miles distant.

Through its mining lease agreements with the Navajo and Hopi Nations, Peabody began to slurry the coal with water from the N-Aquifer in 1970. But now, with a water crisis on the horizon, members of the Hopi Tribe feel that selling their water to Peabody may come with too high a price—their very culture.

Sacred run

On September 30, members of the tribe came together to protest the slurry with a sacred run, organized by Black Mesa Trust. Runners crossed the reservation, from Flower Springs to Lower Moenkopi, a distance of 70 miles, visiting each of the springs on the way. They relayed a gourd of sacred water the entire distance.

“Of all the gifts we have received when we came to this land, water is perhaps the most essential for our life here on the mesas. The many springs that are found throughout our villages make it possible for the Hopi to live here for more than a thousand years,” said Hopi Tribal Chairman Wayne Taylor, Jr., in his statement to the Hopi people.

But now, say the Hopi people, those springs are in danger; many are already beginning to dry up, and the water levels in Moenkopi wash have fallen dramatically.

Water from the N-aquifer is not only used by Peabody; it is also withdrawn for municipal uses. Right now, the Hopi and Navajo in the Black Mesa area use approximately 3,800-acre-feet of water. Compared to other urban areas, like Phoenix, the Hopi use significantly less water per capita—40 gallons per day, compared to their 200 gallons-per-day counterparts. Even with such low water use, by 2040, with a dramatic increase in population and a probable increase in the Hopi’s standard of living, they may use as much as 25,250-acre-feet per year.

“These figures are remarkable when you consider the fact that the current safe yield projections of the aquifer...the amount of water that can safely be withdrawn...without...resulting damage to the aquifer, is estimated to be 5,600 acre-feet per year,” says Taylor. “Studies by the USGS predict that Hopi wells will begin to run dry as early as 2011.”

Peabody’s use of the N-aquifer only compounds the problem, says Taylor, and Vernon Masayesva, former Hopi Tribal Chairman and Director of the Black Mesa Trust (BMT), agrees. Masayesva formed BMT in response to Peabody’s continuing use of N-aquifer water, which is pumped at a rate of 83,000 gallons of water per hour, approximately 4,000 acre-feet per year, almost 159,000 acre-feet during the life of the mine.

A number like this can seem abstract, says Masayesva, so he points to a standard, green 55-gallon water barrel.

Running for life, running for water

By Janel States James

The Observer

MOENKOPI—In the arid southwest, water is serious business. Arizona communities are among the fastest growing in the United States, and water is the single most important resource that will guarantee their continued survival.

The Navajo and Hopi Nations are no different. In the next 40 years, the populations of these two nations will explode. In the Black Mesa area alone, the population is expected to increase from 68,750 to 234,200. Already, springs have vanished and washes flow with decreased vigor.

The Hopi villages, and some Navajo communities as well, rely on a single source for all their water needs—the Navajo Aquifer (N-Aquifer). The aquifer is sizable, an estimated 5,400 square miles—the size of the state of Connecticut—and approximately 800 feet deep.

The water, an estimated 16,000 to 35,000 years old, is incredibly pure, and these two factors—purity and quantity—made the water a perfect choice for Peabody Coal Company, looking for a way to transport coal from Black Mesa to the Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nevada, some 273 miles distant.

Through its mining lease agreements with the Navajo and Hopi Nations, Peabody began to slurry the coal with water from the N-Aquifer in 1970. But now, with a water crisis on the horizon, members of the Hopi Tribe feel that selling their water to Peabody may come with too high a price—their very culture.

Sacred run

On September 30, members of the tribe came together to protest the slurry with a sacred run, organized by Black Mesa Trust. Runners crossed the reservation, from Flower Springs to Lower Moenkopi, a distance of 70 miles, visiting each of the springs on the way. They relayed a gourd of sacred water the entire distance.

“Of all the gifts we have received when we came to this land, water is perhaps the most essential for our life here on the mesas. The many springs that are found throughout our villages make it possible for the Hopi to live here for more than a thousand years,” said Hopi Tribal Chairman Wayne Taylor, Jr., in his statement to the Hopi people.

But now, say the Hopi people, those springs are in danger; many are already beginning to dry up, and the water levels in Moenkopi wash have fallen dramatically.

Water from the N-aquifer is not only used by Peabody; it is also withdrawn for municipal uses. Right now, the Hopi and Navajo in the Black Mesa area use approximately 3,800-acre-feet of water. Compared to other urban areas, like Phoenix, the Hopi use significantly less water per capita—40 gallons per day, compared to their 200 gallons-per-day counterparts. Even with such low water use, by 2040, with a dramatic increase in population and a probable increase in the Hopi’s standard of living, they may use as much as 25,250-acre-feet per year.

“These figures are remarkable when you consider the fact that the current safe yield projections of the aquifer...the amount of water that can safely be withdrawn...without...resulting damage to the aquifer, is estimated to be 5,600 acre-feet per year,” says Taylor. “Studies by the USGS predict that Hopi wells will begin to run dry as early as 2011.”

Peabody’s use of the N-aquifer only compounds the problem, says Taylor, and Vernon Masayesva, former Hopi Tribal Chairman and Director of the Black Mesa Trust (BMT), agrees. Masayesva formed BMT in response to Peabody’s continuing use of N-aquifer water, which is pumped at a rate of 83,000 gallons of water per hour, approximately 4,000 acre-feet per year, almost 159,000 acre-feet during the life of the mine.

A number like this can seem abstract, says Masayesva, so he points to a standard, green 55-gallon water barrel.

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