One wonders how long Hopi Tribal officials will have to chant their position on solving the Hopi water crisis before someone actually pays attention.
For years the Hopi Tribe has clearly explained that there is one solution to this complex issue: construct a water pipeline from Lake Powell to the Hopi Reservation, with a spur to Peabody’s Black Mesa Mine.
This pipeline would serve two purposes: provide the Hopi and western Navajo population with an adequate and sustainable supply of water; and provide the Black Mesa Mine an alternative supply of water.
Not only is this a cost-effective proposal, Peabody officials have already committed to paying for a pipeline and using the proposed supply of water as soon as it is available.
Amid all of the controversy over the Black the Mesa Mine’s industrial use of the N-Aquifer, the only potable supply of drinking water in the area, everyone except the Hopi Tribe seems to forget that the problem is far more complex.
Stopping the Black Mesa Mine’s use of the N-aquifer will not solve the water crisis. All it will do is provide the N-aquifer a temporary reprieve.
With annual population growth rates of 2.48 percent, Hopi and Navajo municipal use of water will soon place an even greater burden on the N-aquifer.
“Stopping Peabody’s use of the N-Aquifer without considering a future water supply for Hopi people is extremely short-sighted,” said Wayne Taylor, Jr., Chairman of the Hopi Tribe. “The population that relies on the N-aquifer is growing and our impacts on the groundwater table will soon outstrip that of the Black Mesa Mine. It is imperative that we find an alternative supply of water for all users of the N-aquifer, both municipal and industrial. The Hopi and Navajo Nation must also agree on a long-term management plan for the N-aquifer to protect it into the future.”
Notwithstanding, the Hopi’s straightforward proposal for a pipeline from Lake Powell, others involved in the effort to protect the N-aquifer are proposing a slew of proposals that range from being too narrow-focused to downright preposterous.
One proposal is to construct a pipeline from the Colorado River at Colorado City/Laughlin to bring water to the Black Mesa Mine for slurrying coal. Good solution for the mine, but where are the Hopi and Navajo supposed to get municipal water?
Tapping the deepest area aquifer, the Coconino, or C-aquifer, is also seen as a possible solution. However, early explorations of this aquifer do not look promising for either water quality or reliable quantity.
The most ludicrous proposal is to slurry coal from the Black Mesa Mine using area wastewater. Apparently the proponent of this idea has not visited the area. Not only are there far too few people to generate sufficient wastewater for slurry, many people do not have indoor plumbing and their wastewater is collected in septic systems or just thrown into the sand.
Indeed, exploring alternative solutions to any problem is an important means to solving it. Were a variety of options not explored, the end solution would perhaps not be the best or most cost effective.
However, in the case of protecting the N-aquifer, the only alternative that makes economic and environmental sense and serves both Hopi and Navajo people is a pipeline from Lake Powell to the Hopi Reservation, with a spur to Peabody’s Black Mesa Mine.
(Claire Heywood is Community Planner for the Hopi Tribe.)