Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

July 21, 2011

Navajos: Peabody Coal Mine Draining Region's Water Supply

New Report: Peabody's Black Mesa Coal Mine draining
region's water supply

By Black Mesa Water Coalition, Dine' CARE, To' Nizhoni Ani, Center for Biologial Diversity and Sierra Club
Photo by Leslie Mano Cockrum
July 20, 2011

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- A massive coal-mining facility on Black Mesa has a much more damaging effect to a vital local water supply, according to a new report released today. A hydrology study, prepared by Dr. Daniel Higgins (PhD in Arid Lands Resource Sciences from the University of Arizona) program demonstrates that after four decades of coal mine groundwater withdrawals, mine-related impacts to the Navajo Aquifer (N-aquifer) far exceed those that have been acknowledged or recognized by the Office of Surface Mining (OSM), the lead Regulatory

Authority for Peabody Coal’s massive mining facility on Black Mesa. The N-aquifer is an important source of water below Black Mesa that feeds sacred springs and is used by thousands as drinking water.

"Despite what these models predicted years ago, I think any reasonable person who looks at the

data would conclude that the rates of water level decline at Kayenta and spring discharge decline

at Moenkopi are directly related to Peabody's groundwater withdrawals,” said Higgins, who

studies the interactions of complex social-ecological systems and spent more than five years

investigating Black Mesa’s groundwater development – the focus of his dissertation research.

"This report reaffirms the fact that coal industry continues to materially damage our aquifer

with impunity," said Marshall Johnson of the Navajo grassroots organization, To’ Nizhoni Ani,

Beautiful Water Speaks. "The truth is that Peabody has yet to prove that the mine is not

damaging the aquifer and OSM has yet to hold Peabody accountable. Instead of addressing the

health of the aquifer, OSM works on creating new standards each time that have been exceeded

so for us, it's disappointing watching a federal agency deliberately sidestep its responsibilities."

Wahleah Johns of the Black Mesa Water Coalition said, “OSM should not award Peabody a

permit renewal until a thorough investigation is conducted on the findings of this report on the


“Dr. Higgins’ report comes at a critical time while OSM is preparing an Environmental

Assessment to analyze the impacts of the Kayenta Mine. OSM officials now need to address

and respond to this report before they let Peabody off the hook for damage to the Navajo

aquifer,” said Nicole Horseherder of To’ Nizhoni Ani and a Black Mesa resident where she

depends on the N-Aquifer for her home and ranch. “The Obama Administration needs to restore

environmental justice for local communities and hold Peabody accountable for damaging that

most basic human right—the right to drink in perpetuity pure, clean water.”

“We have known for a long time that water withdrawals have been impacting local springs and

wildlife but this report puts the burden on OSM to demonstrate to local communities why mine

operations should be allowed to continue,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological


Higgins’ report was submitted by the OSM by Black Mesa Water Coalition, Dine CARE, To’

Nizhoni Ani, the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club as a supplement to comments

previously submitted to the agency in 2010. OSM is preparing an Environmental Assessment

that will be available for public review in August of 2011. The groups have asked OSM to hold

a meeting within the next 30 days to discuss the report’s findings.


Daniel Higgins, PhD, 520-243-9450

Wahleah Johns, Black Mesa Water Coalition, 928-637-5281

Andy Bessler, Sierra Club, 928-774-6103

Anna Frazier, Dine CARE, 928-401-0382

Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, 928-310-6713


1 comment:

Unknown said...

I have mentioned these factors years ago but I've never gotten feedback from local/regional environmentalist group members. I am from Big Mtn., a sheepherder most of my life, indpendent human rights observer and historian. Peabody have stated back in the 1990s that upper water tables are never affected by the N-Aquifer extraction, but I argue that the sinking of the crust would create fissures which would eventually make upper tables drain right through the cracked shale. Shale seams were what Peabody claimed as a sealant to keep the upper water tables from draining down. - This summer while herding sheep in Cactus Valley north of Big Mtn. in just the month of June, active seeps at various natural springs dried up within two weeks and the family had to rely on hauling barrels of water to water the animals. Ranging horses and cattle would wander everywhere seeking water. Of course, local Dineh elders are claiming that in the past all these springs would be producing an adequate amount throughout the summer time. The elders state that in the last 15-20 yrs. the springs have gone bone dry every summer. - So, why is there continued environmental racism even committed by Environmental Groups who first don't listen to the peoples of the lands? Then the so-called "experts," who are so far removed from the land-based peoples, come together to publish their self-proclaimed findings. It is just racism toward the land-based residents who are the real experts, scientifically, ecologically, culturally and foremost, spiritually. -Kat of Big Mtn.