U.S. Water News Online
PHOENIX -- Extensive groundwater pumping by the operator of
the Black Mesa coal mine in northeastern Arizona threatens the water
supply for the Navajo and Hopi tribes more than the government admits
and a new federal permit should be denied, a report by an
environmental group concludes.
Peabody Western Coal Co. also is asking for permission to greatly
increase the amount of water it pumps from the aquifer, according to
the Natural Resources Defense Council report.
But a spokeswoman for Peabody disputed the findings, saying
extensive studies over more than 30 years have shown that the aquifer
is "healthy and robust." Beth Sutton also said the application for a
so-called life-of-mine permit only asks to use the water on an
interim basis, until another supply can be secured.
Regardless, the mine, the power company it supplies and the
leaders of the Indian tribes where it sits all agree that a new water
source is needed and have been working for years to secure it, Sutton
The mine, in the heart of the Navajo Nation, provides coal to only
one customer, Southern California Edison's massive Mohave Generating
Station near Laughlin, Nev.
The plant, the mine and a 273-mile pipeline that carries coal
slurry between the two has been shut down since Jan. 1 because SCE
did not upgrade its pollution control devices as required by the 1999
settlement of a lawsuit brought by consortium of environment groups.
The NRDC was not a party.
Most of the water is used to transport the coal. It is ground up,
mixed with pumped groundwater and then sent from northeast Arizona to
The Navajo Nation wants the water use stopped too, and has told
the mine that repeatedly. But it also has worked with Peabody on
studies on another supply, said George Hardeen, a tribal spokesman.
"The preliminary hydrology reports show there is plenty of water
for that use," Hardeen said of the alternative supply. "So when the
plant goes back on line, there is a very good chance that the water
supply will be a different one."
A lawyer with the NRDC said there are no assurances of that, and
their recent review of federal monitoring data shows the aquifer
under the Navajo Nation is being damaged.
"Not only has Peabody's water use been massive by any stretch of
the imagination, but in their application they are applying to use
even more water," said David Beckman, a senior attorney with the
Wells levels are dropping, springs are drying up, and there are
signs that the ultra-clean water is being contaminated, Beckman said.
He likened the current lull in pumping to a calm between a storm,
noting that the Navajo, the mine owners and Edison are negotiating
new agreements that will allow the power plant and mine to resume
That will take about two years once nearly $1 billion in
improvements and pollution control devices are installed. Edison has
also applied to California regulators for permission to bill
ratepayers for money it spends "aggressively" trying to modify the
settlement. They hope to get the plant reopened sooner, while
upgrades are under way.
Sutton was blunt in her assessment of the NRDC study.
"The claims have long been refuted by long term studies," she
said. "The issues are mainly moot."
Return to the
U.S. Water News' Archives page
Return to the U.S. Water
Use a comma to separate e-mail addresses:
Hi, I thought you might like to read this article.