“Contrary to popular belief, not even Congress will be able to provide funding in part for this venture. The only viable alternative solution is the C-aquifer,” he said.
Hopi Vice Chairman Caleb Johnson has proposed using railroad instead of slurry because it would almost eliminate the use of water. Johnson said the 86-mile railroad would cost an estimated $100 million.
Johnson said the tribe would have to pay part of the cost, but the largest part would have to be picked up by the federal government.
Beth Sutton, spokeswoman for Peabody Coal Co., said this was considered about 20 years ago, but a U.S. Department of Interior report rejected the idea as environmentally intrusive and not economical.
The Hopi chairman said the N-aquifer is a limited source of water with an annual recharge that is limited to 3,000 to 6,000 feet. He noted that the projected population growth for both tribes threatens to outstrip the aquifer’s recharge.
“Since it is the policy of the tribe to develop the reservation as a homeland for our people, we will eventually need to aggressively engage in economic development. However, economic development will not be feasible until the Hopi Tribe is guaranteed a continued source of water,” he said.
Taylor said this means that Peabody Coal Co. needs to secure an alternative water source and there has to be a joint aquifer plan between Hopi and Navajo.
Taylor emphasized that the Hopi Tribe has worked with Peabody and the Mohave Power Plant owners to find an alternative to using the N-aquifer and they have agreed that using the C-aquifer is the best solution.
“At this point, the C-aquifer will provide Peabody with the water source they need for slurrying coal, allowing both the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation a guaranteed source of drinking water to sustain our villages and future economic development,” he said.
Taylor added that the C-aquifer and the pipeline it would use would make it possible for alternative water to be available to Hopi and Navajo communities whose water needs have been exacerbated by seven years of drought.
Taylor added that Vice Chairman Johnson’s idea for using a railroad to transport coal may have merit in the context of developing other Hopi and Navajo coal resources.
“Certainly the tribe will never again allow coal to be transported by a slurry and if a railway line offers an option for future coal development, then we should explore it,” he said.
In the July 25 Navajo Nation Council action, 48 council delegates voted to stop the pumping from the N-aquifer in 2005, 12 opposed the resolution and 11 abstained.
Merle Pete, spokesman for the Navajo Nation Council, said this is the first time the Navajo Nation Council has taken an official action against the pumping of water from the N-aquifer.
The water is mixed with coal for a slurry that goes approximately 300 miles to the Mohave Generating Station in Laughlin, Nev.
Income from Peabody makes up the majority of the Hopi Tribe’s budget and a significant amount of the Navajo Nation’s budget.
Pete noted that the vote does not call for Peabody to close the mine, but for the operation to find alternative water sources.
“They’re concerned about the overall water use. Water needs to be preserved. Navajos and Hopis need something that the residents can use,” Pete said.
According to Sutton, continued use of the mine is crucial for bringing low cost energy to the southwest and a significant amount of money to the area.
Sutton said the parties involved in seeking alternative water sources considered a half dozen alternatives but believe that using water from the C-aquifer would be best.
The C-aquifer, also known as the Coconino aquifer, covers 27,000 square miles and is located below the N-aquifer. The C-aquifer is located east and northeast of Flagstaff.
Sutton said the next action is to undertake a feasibility study and environmental analysis study of the impact the pumping would have on the C-aquifer.
She said both tribes have expressed support for this idea that could also pipe water into Navajo and Hopi communities.
Sutton the Navajo Nation Council’s action “shows that people of good will are trying to solve a problem in earnest.”
She noted that the Peabody mines currently create 600 jobs for the area and that Peabody’s continued operation would bring $6 billion to the area over the next 20 years.
A pipeline from Lake Powell has also surfaced as an alternative but rejected as too expensive.
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