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NRDC Black Mesa Report

NRDC Black Mesa Report - NRDC OnEarth Magazine Fall 2004 A...

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Unformatted text preview: NRDC: OnEarth Magazine, Fall 2004 - A Thirsty Nation Page 1 of 3 NRDC ""‘lm‘afl'mflm ,N\'lk(\r\'.\ll;.\'l Il‘tll I'l lt‘fil l'l:("l‘i. ""i 5" 7‘; A NEW WEBSITE! blogs, more multimedia, and award-winning journalism — mm 15.... come join the conversation at www.0nearth.org About OnEarth . Issue Menu hubscrlacncm 7 9: tl' rul' A Thirsty Nation ”Tim Fag” 9 Huntinqcior Red Gold - Mosqutto cast d‘ ers ”We, mm The Hopl have SO|d risk their lives tolgnnq (gem. their 00a] and their us cheap lobster dinners lG-iEml'v water to the Peabody . V . , . >Lonesome Lady - - ‘ - - -- -‘ ' Republican Martha Marks am mm or company for decades. tries to green up the cor» Lcntects The money keeps flowing, but now their springs are running dry. Back issues , Adv-trust: 4 THE BLACK MESA REGION ‘ ._ _, ._.__ :9 “"5"” M S een from a distance. the tightly bunched adobe and ' ' sandstone homes of the Hopi pueblos look more like mug Mme natural rock formations than like dwellings, barely distinguishable from the rugged ochre cliffs on which they HROC Membership formation that sprawls across more than 5,000 square miles 1 ‘ , . of northeastern Arizona. On relief maps, the mesa resembles ; .. a . . " ‘ a giant hand. with steep. rocky fingers stretching to the j Mum A, N' southwest. In this harsh, nearly treeless land. not a single mum Effigggw‘filflgfi ? permanent river or stream flows; no lakes reflect the oceanic W__ “rfiawr—M“ desert sky. Yet the Hopi have farmed this parched earth for RESOURCES centuries. One of their villages. Oraibi, is the oldest continuously inhabited site in North America, occupied since 3'30" Mesa “"5! 900 AD, www.btackmesatrust.org Even though the Hopi have largely adopted a modern cash economy. nearly every family still farms at least part time. At this time of year -- late spring -- they are planting corn. melons, beans, and squash, just as they have for more than a thousand springtimes. In a region that sees less than 10 inches of rain a year. the Hopi me How ma : guns m long ago perfected a unique my. a, Memes. V “398 form of agriculture called dry i tttttt QH.\a-hh arc m nrhn' ml http://www.nrdc.org/onearth/04fal/blackmesaI .asp 4/9/2008 NRDC: OnEarth Magazine, Fall 2004 - A Thirsty Nation Page 2 of 3 farming. They seldom irrigate their crops, but sow seeds near gullies and dry washes that flood during the late-summer rainy season. They disperse their fields to take advantage of any scattered rainfall. so if one crop withers. another may survive. While the Hopi occasionally use tractors to plow, they tend and harvest their crops entirely by hand. But even with the summer rains and the meticulous care of their fields, the Hopi's enduring presence in this land of mesas and sere plains would have been impossible had it not been for a secret they learned long ago. Hidden deep beneath the desert's rocky. scrubby surface are enormous reservoirs of water, much of it trapped in porous sandstone since the last ice age. These aquifers feed springs that seep from rock faces and bubble up from the desert floor. Without the springs there would be no Hopi; every village is built around one. To the tribe they are sacred. the setting for ancient rituals mostly closed to outsiders. But now many of the springs and washes are drying up, and crops are wilting. And since one~quarter of the homes on the reservation lack running water, the failure of the springs means that many Hopi must drive their pickups to distant water stations to fill their five-gallon buckets. An outsider unfamiliar with the convoluted history here might attribute all this to the drought that has gripped the region for years. But the Hopi blame a relatively new resident on Black Mesa. one with a seemingly unquenchable thirst for the tribe's sole source of drinking water. Thirty-eight years ago. the Hopi -- and the neighboring Navajo tribe -- struck a Faustian bargain with the world's biggest privately owned coal mining company. Peabody Energy. In exchange for desperately needed jobs and revenue. the tribes allowed Peabody to mine Black Mesa's rich coal deposits. The same agreement let Peabody pump from an aquifer that supplies drinking water for the approximately 10,000 Hopi and 27.000 Navajo who live on Black Mesa. The aquifer's water is so pure that it needs no treatment before drinking. With severe water shortages looming over the entire Southwest, both tribes are now demanding that Peabody stop using the aquifer by the end of 2005. But Peabody says that if the water is shut off. it may be forced to close one of its two mines on Black Mesa. a move that would eviscerate the tribes' fragile economies. Roughly 60 percent of the Hopi tribal government's annual budget, and 25 percent of that of the Navajos. comes from payments Peabody makes for the coal and water. “It has been estimated that the value of the Black Mesa mines to the two tribes is in the neighborhood of $85 million a year," says Harris Sherman. who is an attorney for the Hopi tribe. "That's in the form of royalties, taxes, employment benefits. and secondary economic spin-offs. So when you're dealing with two of the poorest groups in the country, the closure of the mine would have a devastating impact.” Peabody runs two mines on the mesa -- the Kayenta and the Black Mesa. Combined, they are the largest strip-mining operation in the nation, and they lie entirely on Hopi and Navajo land. Earthmoving machines as big as buildings tear http://www.nrdc.org/onearth/04fal/blackmesal .asp 4/9/2008 NRDC: OnEarth Magazine, Fall 2004 - A Thirsty Nation Page 3 of 3 off football-lield-size swaths of the desert's surface at one swipe. Mine workers. most of them Navajos earning good wages. dynamite the exposed seams into chunks small enough to be transported. Peabody ships coal from the Kayenta mine to a power plant on the Navajo reservation via an old rail line that was built before the company came to the mesa. The coal from the Black Mesa mine -- the one Peabody is threatening to close -~ goes to the Mohave generating station in Laughlin. Nevada, owned by Southern California Edison and a consortium of four other utilities. There is no railroad to that plant. and Peabody saved substantial sums by not building one. The company found a far cheaper way to move the coal. Every day, Peabody taps about three million gallons of water from the 3.000-foot-deep Navajo, or N. aquifer and mixes it with crushed coal to form a slurry. It pumps this mixture west through a 273-mile-long underground pipeline to the Mohave plant, where the coal is separated from the slurry and dried; the residual water is then channeled to the plant's boilers. The Black Mesa slurry line is the only one in the country and one of the few in the world. The technology has been almost universally rejected as grossly inefficient. "It's just an epic waste of water to use 1.2 or 1.4 billion gallons of pristine drinking water annually to slurry coal in one of the most arid regions of the United States, a place that doesn't have enough drinking water for the people who live there.“ says David Beckman. a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) who has worked closely with the Hopi for several years. Can the Hopi and Navajo find some way to secure their water for the future without simultaneously ruining their economies? Unfortunately. they don't have much leverage. The Black Mesa and Kayenta coal represents only about 6 percent of the total that Peabody takes from its worldwide mining operations. Still, there may yet be a solution to the impasse. At the very least, Peabody could stop pumping from the N aquifer and switch to another aquifer on Black Mesa with lower water quality. But negotiations have often been contentious; the tribes are wary, with bitter memories dating to their first negotiations with Peabody 38 years ago. And though the issues may be particularly stark here -- the desert light casts everything in sharp relief -- the same sorts of trade-offs confront us all. Page: 1 2 3 4 Tim Folger is a contributing editor at Discover magazine and the series editor for The Best American Science and Nature Writing, an annual anthology published by Houghton Mifllin. Folger lives in New Mexico. Photos: Alec Soth Map: Small World Maps OnEarth. Fall 2004 Copyright 2004 by the Natural Resources Defense Council http://www.nrdc.org/onearth/04fal/blackmesal .asp 4/9/2008 NRDC: OnEarth Magazine, Fall 2004 - A Thirsty Nation ‘ Page 1 of 3 iNRDC In (Mn-x an! out-u l Al l 200:1 A NEW WEBSITE! blogs, more multimedia, and award-winning journalism — gm,“ We. come join the conversation at www.0nearth.org fibou: OnEa'th Issue Menu butszriae/Jotn i’mi‘, 1le Thirsty atlon Page 2 .1 err-M.- . u- .ii-n ,.-,.- wnearth v ernon Masayesva served as the chairman of the Hopi tribe from 1990 through 1994. Masayesva lives in the oldest house in the flSk their was to bung P Hunting for Red Gold Mosquito Coast dwers ' ifé'tggx,” village of Kykotsmovi. a name us cheap lobster dinners . that means earth-mound ruins. p Lonesome Lad 1 ““""~“ 0‘5“" for the remains of an ancient V . Re ublican Martha Marks Vlllage tha‘ Once SiOOd here. tugs ‘0 green up the GOP He is a trim, handsome man with thick black hair. He is wearing jeans and a T-shirt printed with a quote from Full Table of Contents Back issues advertise ' Media m Gandhi: First they ignore you. ' ! Then they laugh at you. Then . ‘CWVWGY "33 3 "em 535' they fight you. Then you win. NRDL i-crne mm LS cecausc we in; sic-d .. , . g irem ' sa- 3 Vernon "“9“ ”WWW" Mum-est]; former chaxmn Sitting in his cool, quiet living .c' the .~ QDI it be room. he nods toward the exposed ponderosa pine beams that span the ceiling of the house. The beams were salvaged, he says. from a church burned by the Hopi when they rebelled against their Spanish overlords in 1680. , . . Problems with obtrusive outsiders are nothing new for the ‘ . essences U. Hopi. ' ' ' ’ * Black Mesa Trust .bl k t t. Masayesva, now head of the Black Mesa Trust, a nonprofit www ac mesa ms 0'9 group that he founded in 1998 to lead the Hopi struggle against Peabody. has seen the company's massive mines only one time. from the air. But since Peabody's arrival, there has never been a time when he -- or any other Hopi -- was not allected by their presence. When he was a high school student in the late 19605. he would sit in the evenings under an old cottonwood tree. listening to the elders in his village talk about coal and water. and about a man named John Sterling Boyden. Boyden was a powerful figure in southwestern politics and society for decades. He was a bishop in the Mormon Church and a tenacious. skilled trial lawyer. He also represented the Hopi. The tribe. it seemed. couldn't have wished for a more http://www.nrdc.oryonearth/04fal/blackmesaZ.asp 4/9/2008 NRDC: OnEarth Magazine, Fall 2004 - A Thirsty Nation Page 2 of 3 potent ally. For years Boyden tried to persuade the Hopi to open their land to mining interests. Traditionalists in the tribe rejected the idea out of hand. One of them, Thomas Banyacya, said. “You will make us a landless. homeless people. This is the only land we have.“ Not to be rebuffed. Boyden helped assemble a tribal council more sympathetic to his own views. On May 16. 1966. Boyden presented it with a lease proposal he had prepared for the council members to sign. According to Charles Wilkinson, a professor of law at the University of Colorado who has studied Boyden's career, Boyden failed to tell the council that Peabody would be operating the largest strip mines in the country on their land. Moreover. he said little or nothing about the huge quantities of water the company would need. Boyden also neglected to tell the tribe that its coal would help fuel the development boom in the Southwest. With cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas then on the brink of explosive growth, the tribe could have exerted enormous leverage to extract the best possible price for its coal and water. Instead, Boyden’s agreement sold the tribe's coal and water rights for absurdly low prices. The Hopi and the Navajo received a royalty rate that was half what the US. government received for coal mined on public lands. The water deal was worse -- it there even was a deal. Masayesva says there is no evidence that anyone from the tribe signed a lease that gave Peabody access to the reservation‘s aquifers. “There is no record,“ declares Masayesva. “We hired a law firm to investigate. They couldn't find any record where the tribe ever approved a sale of that water.“ Masayesva. who has examined the 1966 lease, says that it contains a handwritten section -- added without the knowledge of anyone on the tribal council -- specifying how much the Hopi would receive for their water. For every acre- foot of water pumped from the aquifer (an acre-foot is the amount of water that would cover an acre to a depth of one foot), Peabody was to pay $1.67. In the arid Southwest, water from the N aquifer should have commanded $30 to $50 per acre-foot. Why did Boyden fail to protect the interests of his impoverished clients. who even today suffer an unemployment rate that hovers around 50 percent? The mystery wasn‘t solved until many years after Boyden's death in 1980. One of \Mlkinson's research assistants uncovered a startling fact while studying a collection of Boyden's papers in 1992: Boyden secretly worked for Peabody at the same time he was representing the Hopi. Billing records and correspondence with Peabody executives show that Boyden's association with the company lasted from 1964 through 1971 . Boyden’s chief concern during those years was not the welfare of the Hopi but the development of the Southwest, which would have been impossible without access to the tribe's coal and water. "The Hopi could nullify the lease with Peabody tomorrow on the basis of that conflict of interest.“ says Masayesva. But he explains that the tribe is reluctant to attack a man whom many still regard as a benefactor. “They say. 'He was a nice guy. He was good to us. He was a decent person.‘ There is http://www.nrdc.org/onearth/O4fal/blackmesa2.asp 4/9/2008 NRDC: OnEarth Magazine, Fall 2004 - A Thirsty Nation Page 3 of 3 no one over here saying that the son of a gun sold us down the river -- let's go after it, let's nullify the agreement with Peabody. You don't hear any talk like that. Maybe we're now snapping out of it a little bit, especially those who, like myself. are not keeping quiet.“ Even before Boyden's conflict of interest surfaced. the Hopi and Navajo began to recognize the blatant unfairness of their deal with Peabody. (The company defends its dealings with Boyden: “The notion that deceased attorney John Boyden was secretly involved in lease negotiations to benefit Peabody's interests is untrue and a tragic attempt at detarning a dead and honorable man.“ states Peabody spokeswoman Beth Sutton.) In 1987 the tribes renegotiated their lease with the company and started to receive a fair royalty for their coal. The Hopi also held out for the market price for their water. instead of $1.67 per acre-foot. they began collecting $300 an acre-foot. The new arrangement didn't provide any remedy for the many additional millions the tribes should have been paid for the previous 20 years. but it assuaged some of their anger, and the money has helped pay for improved schools, health care. and other social services. “Everything was wrong with this from the very beginning,“ Masayesva says. But he acknowledges that by 1987, the Hopi should have known better. "When we sold the water. we broke the covenant with our ancestors. We sold something sacred." Page: 1 2 3 4 Photo: Alec Solh Map: Small World Maps OnEarth. Fall 2004 Copyright 2004 by the Natural Resources Defense Council http://www.nrdc.org/onearth/04fal/blackmesa2.asp 4/9/2008 NRDC: OnEarth Magazine, Fall 2004 - A Thirsty Nation Page I of 3 “Immflml’m-‘I l1N\'lRUN.\ll.N'l |Iun H H 5} PLUM ;= Nil «’0'»: A NEW WEBSITE! blogs, more multimedia, and award-winning journalism — g Cure... .55.... come join the conversation at www.0nearth.org : About OnEar‘th Issue Menu f Subscribe/Jam Pudcaslt: Page 3 visit a sacred spring at the village of Mishongnovi. Masayesva gestures out the window at some of the tightly clustered stone homes. None of them has running 0 n a hot. windy morning in early June, during a drive to > Hunting for Red Gold Mosqutto Coast divers . wt” from water. he says. Of the 12 Hopi_villages on or near Black risk the” Wes to bring ' mé 5mm. Mesa. only four have even rudimentary plumbing to bnng us cheap lobster dinners drinking water into homes. All the others rely on communal f 30m“ 0“E“"" wells or pump houses to access their share of the N aquifers 9 kgsuebfifirannehqgfh‘g Marks ' Full Table of bounty. Behind the pueblos. outhouses crowd the cliff edges. We; to green up the cop Contents Most residents collect their water in five-gallon buckets, which gm .55..“ weigh more than 40 pounds when full. The labor oi hauling those buckets naturally enforces a conservation ethic. Americans use, on average. 40 gallons of water daily. while 1 Media K r the Hopi average falls below eight gallons. \Mth about 10.000 Hopi living on the reservation, that comes to 80.000 gallons. '“ or less than 3 percent of what Peabody pumps every day. Advertise NRDC Home NRDC Membership The spring at Mishongnovi is the site of the Hopi's nine-day Flute Ceremony, which takes place every two years and which only Hopi can attend. It is held in August to encourage _ rain and healthy crops of corn. RESOURCES (On alternate years. the Snake Ceremony is performed 3'5“?" Mesa Tms‘ instead.) But the spring is www.blackmesatrust.org nearly dry, with just a small puddle of algae-covered water at the very bottom of a large circular depression ringed with rocks. Much the same thing can be seen in any of the Hopi Ceremonial sDrincs such as villages or on the Navajo ' this one in Mishongncvu village portion 0' the mesa to the have dried up m recent years north- says Masayesva- The Hop-.5 blame Peabody‘s prose Springs are low Ol’ dry gous use of a Black Mesa everywhere. he says. And he Mimic-r. and many other residents on Black Mesa are convinced that Peabody's use of the N aquifers water for the coal slurry is the main cause. became «Lg \niumt Rapture.» - , V http://www.nrdc.org/onearth/04fal/blackmesa3.asp 4/9/2008 NRDC: OnEarth Magazine, Fall 2004 - A Thirsty Nation Page 2 of 3 “I recall when the land was plentiful with vegetation and there were natural springs in various areas near Peabody,“ says Mary Gilmore. a Navajo woman who testified at an Interior Department hearing in 1989. “Now the land is dry....Other natural springs. close to the mining area. are becoming dry and the vegetation is...being destroyed." Beth Sutton says that the Peabody company is trying to cooperate with the tribes. “We're moving to look aggressively at alternatives," she explains, "but our lease agreement gives us the right to use this water. This is the most well-monitored aquifer in the country. and study after study has shown that we are not harming it." At least that is what some studies have shown, including those funded by Peabody. Sutton declined to respond to questions about government data that show plunging water levels in Black Mesa's wells. The company's standard argument seems straightforward: It is extracting only a tiny portion of the aquifer's water. But Abe Springer. a hydrogeologist at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. says that the company is using the wrong criterion to judge the aquifer's health. More important than the total amount of water stored in the aquifer. says Springer. is the amount of water that flows out to the surface through the aquifer‘s springs. Peabody may be removing just a fraction of the aquifer‘s stores. which contain an ...
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