In the US today, there is one slurry-line that transports crushed coal using water. That is the slurry pipeline from Black Mesa Mine to Mohave Generating Station, 273 miles away. There was one other similar pipeline in Ohio, but due to the “unreasonable use of a valuable resource” it was shut down. But in this high desert of Black Mesa, a place that gets less than 8 inches of rain a year, Peabody insists on using drinking water to transport coal.
The Black Mesa Pipeline uses some 4,500 acre-feet (one acre foot = 325,000 gallons) of pristine water annually from the Navajo Aquifer or N-Aquifer. This is approximately 55 gallons a second, or 52,000 barrels a day. That’s 120,000 gallons an hour. The Navajo Nation receives about $900 per acre-foot.
Now break this down. Peabody pays the Navajo Nation one penny, for every 4 gallons of water from the N-Aquifer. That is less than one penny per gallon. How much do you pay for your gallon of water from the store? I’m sure it’s more than a penny.
Now, most residents on Black Mesa don’t have running water. Most residents haul water in 55 gallon barrels. For example, Hardrock residents pay two cents a gallon for water they load up at the chapter house. The unemployment rate in Hardrock is about 80 percent and residents pay more for their water than Peabody does.
Peabody’s tremendous use of our pristine water has impacted our environment. Thirty years of pumping drinking water out of the ground has caused springs, seeps, wells and washes to dry up. They are gone. No one knows if they will return. Hauling water has become a constant chore. In fact, that seems to be all we do here on Black Mesa.
Our children think that is all there is to life, and so they move elsewhere. They don’t know that this beautiful land was once vibrant with springs and seeps everywhere. They don’t know that there was once a balance in this water cycle that caused the rains to fall and the grass to grow. Black Mesa was healthy.
Today we are in a drought that is projected for the next 20 years, and yet Peabody Coal Company insists that its continuous pumping will have no impact on the aquifer, environment or water cycle.
How ignorant could Peabody be? With all the cumulative knowledge in that corporation, how could it not know that with drawing enormous amounts of water from N-Aquifer will have no harmful impacts. Peabody personnel always say they are taking only one cup of water from a 55-gallon barrel. They say there is plenty of water down there.
The fact is neither Peabody nor their hydrologist has ever been down to see how much water is in the N-aquifer. They pay a hydrologist to do studies that are written in their best interest. What they never tell the public is that they are also depressurizing the aquifer. Pressure is crucial to stabilizing the aquifer. It is like the main posts of a house. Both water and pressure give the N-Aquifer strength and health.
In January and February, the Office of Surface Mining is holding informal conferences in regards to Peabody’s new mine application. In this mine application, Peabody wants to continue to use the N-Aquifer. It wants the C-Aquifer studied so that they may begin using the C-Aquifer as well. It wants to mine more coal and use more water. It wants to build a coal washing facility because to wash the ash from the coal before it can be used at the generating station.
Our position remains that no water, especially drinking water, should be used for industrial purposes. The N-aquifer belongs to the Dine of Black Mesa and the future generations. The C-aquifer belongs to the Dine of Leupp, Tolani Lake and Bird Springs among others.
Peabody says that it reclaims the land it mines. That land will never look the same or have the same value. Residents who live near the mine suffer from asthma and other health problems. This issue affects all of us.
This issue is tied to the power plants, to the water rights settlements throughout the Navajo Nation. Outside agencies and corporations want to seize our resources. They want to make money from us and leave us with pennies.
As a Union Ironworker, I have learned that we stand in brotherhood on issues pertaining to our lives and well being. We strike on corporations and companies that are mistreating employees or operating unreasonably. This is how we stand in unity and strength. I am asking the union workers at the mine to consider this.
In our homeland, we are Dine first and must stand in brotherhood in that way, for our people, our elders and our way of life. We need to make a corporation like Peabody, which thinks of profit first, to consider life for the people by discontinuing the use of the N-Aquifer and the slurry-line. We are the realization of our grandfather’s prayers when they did the offerings to the springs on and around Black Mesa.
Let us not negotiate any more bad deals, give away any more resources, waive any more of our rights and leave the future generations and the unborn to untangle our mess and pay the price for our wrong doings.
Peabody Coal Company has the sole responsibility to finding an alternative for the slurry pipeline as directed by Department of Interior. It is not the Navajo Nation or Hopi Tribe’s or the mineworkers,’ for that matter, problem. As it is, Peabody continues to deny it must take the responsibility to finding a non-water based alternative transportation.
I’m not just one person talking about this issue for my livelihood and that of the future generations. There are hundreds of residents on Black Mesa who are weary and often depressed about the Relocation. They shake their heads in disbelief at the continued onslaught of Black Mesa and her resources. Hundreds more are too busy trying to make a living, they barely have time to stop and say, “yeego init’I,” “You’re doing it for all of us.” Still hundreds more are deeply concerned and worry for the future of their children on Black Mesa. Yet they just can’t find the time between taking out the sheep in the morning to bringing them in the evening, to break away and join in the fight. We incorporate their advice and their experience in our efforts.
I’m not a traditionalist, radical, troublemaker that I have been labeled. I’m not backwards nor do I want to go back to last century. I’m a man who loves the land I was born on. I’m interested in land restoration and riparian projects. These things will ensure my future and that of the many generations of Dine.
On July 25, 2003, The Navajo Nation Council voted in support to The End of the Pumping of the N-Aquifer by Peabody Coal Company for the Slurry Pipeline Operation at the end of 2005. I want to thank the Council for choosing life for the people.
(Marshall Johnson is Co-founder of To Nizhoni Ani. To Nizhoni Ani initiated the resolution to End the Pumping of the N-Aquifer, which was passed on July 25, 2003. To Nizhoni Ani intervened on behalf of the grassroots people of Black Mesa in the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) proceedings on the Future Disposition of the Mohave Generating Station. The decision of the CPUC proceedings will temporarily shut down the Mohave Generation Station at the end of 2005.)