Navajo-Hopi Nations,Flagstaff & Winslow News
Sun, April 05

Black Mesa — It's about water

KYKOTSMOVI—Hopis may be closer to having federal officials find another water source for slurrying coal out of state from the Peabody Coal Mine.

Vernon Masayesva, executive director of the Black Mesa Trust, a non-profit organization dedicated to saving Hopi groundwater, met with federal officials last month who were surprised by the amount of water that may be lost from the N-aquifer because of the Peabody Coal Mine operation. The federal officials told Masayesva that they would look into it and get back to him within Water rights Office and U.S. Geological Survey.

“They had their ears open. It was different environment than a couple of years ago,” said Masayesva. “They may respond in a positive manner. There are many new people in place and it seems like it might change.” Masayesva said the federal officials might want an Environmental Impact Study performed on the area since that has not been done since the early 1990s.

Masayesva and other Black Mesa Trust Officials met with the Hopi Water Rights Team on April 6. They were expecting a small gathering, but instead they were speaking to a packed house that wanted to hear about the water situation.

“They all left saying that water rights is the priority,” he said.

Masayesva wants the Bureau of Reclamation to look at the impact of water projects on the Hopi and Navajo reservations.

He noted that the Hopi Tribe has consistently opposed the EIS conclusions from the early 1990s. He would like to see a comprehensive hydrologic impact assessment performed as part of an updated EIS.

Masayesva said he doesn’t want the mine closed down, but another water source found for transporting the coal from mine to Nevada.

Masayesva emphasized that Hopi groundwater is already at a dangerously low point. He noted that the lease between the Hopi Tribe states that the Interior Secretary can force Peabody to find an alternative water source for Peabody’s Black Mesa Mine if the Hopi groundwater is endangered.

He wants the use of the N-aquifer to slurry coal to the Mohave Generating Station in Nevada to stop by 2004. The coal is transported to Nevada by mixing it with water, creating a slurry that sends it through the pipes in liquid form.

Masayesva said the federal government has not evaluated the impact on the Hopi groundwater for eight years and that Peabody studies are hardly unbiased. He said neither the Hopi nor the Navajo tribes have studied the impact of the pumping on the groundwater.

A Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) report supports Masayesva’s contentions. The recent report states that the water levels in the N-aquifer have decreased and some localized contamination of the aquifer may be taking place.

The NRDC wants the groundwater pumping to stop by 2005. They also want Peabody to immediately adopt a water plan, a list of alternatives by the Interior Department and assurances to the Navajo and Hopi reservations of a long-term water supply.

The most often mentioned water alternative for the Black Mesa Mine would be piping it in from Lake Powell at a cost of more than $68 million.

To contact the Black Mesa Trust call (520) 734-9255 or (480) 421-2377.

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