This column is in response to the article “Sees Lake Powell pipeline as solution to Hopi water crisis,” written by Claire Heywood, who is Community Planner for the Hopi Tribe (in the Nov. 20 edition of the Navajo-Hopi Observer).
Let me begin by saying that it is the position of the Hopi Tribal Council, whether by actual resolution or not, that the “Hopi Tribe will not support another coal contract for the Black Mesa Mine until Peabody stops the industrial pumping of the Navajo Aquifer by the year 2005.” This is when the current coal contract expires for the Black Mesa Mine.
Furthermore, this is the position of our Hopi Tribal Chairman Wayne Taylor Jr. took upon his re-election. It is probably the strongest position ever taken by the council and our leader to maintain our way of life. We Hopi sinom (people) must therefore remind all council representatives of this position for there is no going back! This position must not change, and we must bear the responsibility if we fail to secure our homeland and our sole source of water for the generations yet to come.
Our Hopi Tribal Council of old made the tragic decision to sell our coal along with the most precious of all, water, to Peabody in its initial mining lease agreement in the 1960s. There is no longer any denying what Peabody has brought us to. Though there is some cap ceiling (limit) on the coal reserves to be mined, there is absolutely no cap ceiling (limit) on how much water Peabody can use in its mining operations.
This was when the covenant with the caretaker of this land “Masaw” (a Hopi deity) was broken. I truly believe that the hardships we face today are direct punishments of this broken covenant promise. Besides what has already befallen our people, we can only try to lessen the severity of these punishments. We do this by putting an end to the pumping of our sole source of water (N-Aquifer) as the first step. This is an act of faith.
Miss Haywood’s outline of a water pipeline proposal supported by the Hopi Tribe from Lake Powell to the mine sounds grand, but it too is not without controversy — right of ways through Navajo lands, NEPA’s (National Environment Protection Act) impact study requirements, the size of the pipeline in addressing all future municipal water needs of the tribes and, last but not least, the enormous and mounting need for the water at the mine. I need not remind Miss Heywood that for years Peabody has denied any impact to the Navajo Aquifer and continues to do so. Peabody has not committed to paying for this pipeline (municipal and industrial) nor will it commit any time soon.
This is evident through the proposed Kyl Bill that was riding the Zuni Water Rights Bill. It was attached to this bill on behalf of the Salt River Project (SRP), power barons who are co-owners of the Mojave Generating Station, to provide Peabody with its water needs at the mine. The idea was for SRP to lease Colorado River water (Lower Basin) from a southern Arizona tribe for 35 years....
Furthermore Arvin Trujillo, Executive Director of Natural Resources of the Navajo Tribe recently confirmed within the Kyl Bill that both tribes would be prohibited from tapping this pipeline for any beneficial use (municipal) for 35 years! The Kyl Bill has since been pulled but remains to be seen again. This from an Arizona Senator who doesn’t believe that our regional water supply (Navajo Aquifer) is in any danger. Senator Kyl also scoffs at any water pipeline proposal, which would benefit both tribes. He has yet to begin any study of our regional water supply with the $2 million in congressional funding he has received for this very purpose.
In its irony the Kyl Bill supported by SRP is a slap in the face of the Zuni Pueblo peoples. SRP is currently hell-bent on mining coal near the Zuni peoples’ sacred place, the Zuni Salt Lake — another Arizona power baron intent on using an aquifer (Dakota Aquifer) for its water-related mining needs. The Zuni Salt Lake is fed by this aquifer for its unique bed of salts. Obviously Sen. Kyl has yet to pay for his past political favors to his friends at SRP in full.
It is very disturbing to hear you (Heywood) say that stopping the industrial pumping of the Navajo Aquifer will not solve the water crisis. Your insensitive opinion to all Hopi Sinom, our Navajo neighbors, all living things, which depend on it, is not for you to say, “all it will do is provide the N-aquifer a temporary reprieve.”
Your callous misunderstanding of the unique body of water (N-Aquifer) beneath us in its relation to land, the people and all living things is totally misunderstood by you and many outsiders. For over 2000 years, our Hopi culture has withstood the sands of time. The Hopi sinom through their faith, religious cycles and priesthood responsibilities have maintained the balance necessary in keeping harmony with nature while upholding our covenant to be good stewards of the land.
Both Hopi men and women, through song and dance, fasting and prayer, uphold these responsibilities year upon year. Our creator’s blessings of rain and snow have replenished our gourd in the ground (N-Aquifer) for the benefit of all living things in this area. Faith with our creator is for all living beings to have life on this planet. Daily water withdrawals by Peabody are totally insane!
You (Heywood) have obviously not been among us long enough to totally understand this. Yes, we will continue to grow in population as a people, but if the Navajo Aquifer is damaged beyond repair (which may be the case) then all hope of sustaining our way of life may be lost. The elders have warned that if the aquifer seals itself, it is forever! In other words, it will die and its breath will cease in the form of the sacred springs....
The water crisis is complex indeed, but do not be the one to rule out any narrow focused or shortsighted proposals of protecting the N-Aquifer, such as your opinion on the ludicrous idea of using reclaimed wastewater. I agree that there may not be a fair amount of reclaimed wastewater needed for the slurry operation, but I would not rule out the possibility that reuse of wastewater could be used to suppress coal dust at the mine. ...
With this in mind, we the Navajo and Hopi sinom should propose to return to the first idea of having Peabody build a railroad to transport Black Mesa coal to the Mojave Generating Station to change the course of history.
The use of precious groundwater was as ludicrous then as it is now of using water yet again for an alternative means to continue the slurry. Water in the Southwest will continue to be a hotly contentious issue especially in the state of Arizona. Besides, the day our $400 an hour lawyers in Washington, D.C. or our General Counsel get around to filing a water rights claim on the Colorado River (Upper and Lower Basin), all the water will be allocated or gone. Neither tribes (Navajo or Hopi) have yet to do so. If any Navajo is reading this, one of the prerequisite conditions upon the signing of the lease those many years ago (in the 1960s) was for the Navajo people to waive any water rights claim on the Colorado River for 50 years! Peabody already committed to paying for a pipeline? I don’t think so.
(Leonard Selestewa is Black Mesa Trust President. Black Mesa Trust was organized in 2001 by a group of concerned Hopis to begin researching all aspects of Peabody Energy’s Black Mesa coal and water mining operations.)