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Water Resource Issues in the Eastern Plateau Planning Area - Tribal

A number of water resource issues have been identified in the planning area by community groups, through the distribution of surveys, and from other sources.  Areas covered in this section include Tribal Issues, Surveys, Watershed Groups and Studies,and Planning and Conservation.

Tribal Issues

Water supply availability is an issue on tribal lands in the planning area. A Navajo Department of Water Resources (NDWR) White Paper identified the need for an increased water supply to help support needed basic services on the reservation (NDWR, 2002). The tribe is investigating the feasibility of transporting water by pipeline to several areas and is conducting groundwater development investigations. This included a plan to investigate the alluvial aquifer in the Bird Springs area located east of Leupp at the southern edge of the Navajo Reservation Boundary northwest of Winslow, to analyze the feasibility of well field development (NDWR, USBOR & USIHS 1999). Subsequently, the USGS issued a report in 2005 evaluating the C-aquifer in this area as a potential supply for Peabody Coal and the Navajo and Hopi (Hoffman and others, 2005). The Hopi Tribe is also engaged in supply development activities and recently purchased off-reservation ranches near Winslow and Springerville for potential irrigation development or other purposes (HKM Engineering, 2005).

One of the water development challenges on the Navajo Reservation is that resolution of problems requires the coordination of multiple agencies and private resources. In addition, the population has limited economic resources that make large capital investments difficult and the widely dispersed population results in large distances between water sources and water users.  Although the Navajo Nation has adopted a Drought Plan and conducts numerous planning activities, additional regional water planning, investigation of a regional conveyance system, improving water service to domestic water haulers and water conservation and reuse were identified as needs. (NDWR, 2002)

In addition to the aforementioned issues, the Hopi and Navajo are concerned about the impact to their water supply by Peabody Western Coal Company (PWCC) extracting N-aquifer water for coal mining activities at the Black Mesa Project. The N-aquifer is the primary source of drinking water for the Hopi. This pumping is believed to be affecting water supplies in some areas (Hopi Tribe, 2005).  Approximately 4,400 acre-feet of water per year had been extracted from the aquifer to transport coal through a slurry pipeline from the Black Mesa Coal Mine to the Mohave Generating Station (MGS) at Laughlin, Nevada.  The MGS suspended operation in December 2005. As originally proposed in early 2004 and analyzed in a draft EIS in November 2006, the Black Mesa Project included construction of a new water-supply system and a 108-mile long water-supply pipeline from a new well field in the Coconino aquifer near Leupp, Arizona, to the mine complex to replace/reduce N-aquifer pumping (OSMRE, 2008). The draft EIS received over 18,000 comments, largely related to concerns about groundwater use. After the draft EIS was issued, attempts to reopen the MGS were suspended and PWCC amended its Office of Surface Mining (OSM) permit application accordingly (OSMRE, 2008).

Navajo Reservoir

Reservoir on the Navajo Reservation.

In November 2008, the final EIS for the Black Mesa Project was released. The proposed project would consolidate the operations of the Kayenta Mine, which supplies 8.5 million tons of coal per year via a 75-mile railway to the Navajo Generating Station, and the adjacent Black Mesa Mine, which previously supplied coal to the MGS, under a single permit. Water use at the Black Mesa Complex would be reduced to an average of 1,236 acre-feet of N-aquifer water per year for mining-related and domestic purposes (OSMRE, 2008). In December 2008, OSM approved the project and issued a life-of-mine permit that would allow operations to continue until 2026. A coalition of tribal groups and conservationists appealed the decision in January 2009 citing, among other factors, concerns over groundwater depletion (Arizona Republic, 2009).

Resolution of Indian water rights settlements is a critical issue in the planning area. The Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Zuni Tribe and the San Juan Southern Paiute Tribe have been negotiating with non-Indian water users in the Little Colorado River Plateau Basin, the State of Arizona and the federal government for several years in a settlement committee appointed by the LCR Adjudication Court (Court).

The non-Indian parties reached agreement with the Zuni Tribe over protection of its Zuni Heaven lands in Arizona, resulting in congressional approval in 2003.  On December 31, 2008 the Department released a preliminary catalog of non-exempt registered wells in the Eastern Little Colorado River Basin for inspection and comment. The catalog was compiled in accordance with the Zuni Indian Tribe Water Rights Settlement, approved by the Court on November 27, 2006.

Talks have continued with the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe about possible settlement of their Little Colorado River Basin water right claims. The Department released a preliminary Hydrographic Survey Report (Hopi HSR) for the Hopi Reservation on December 31, 2008, prepared as part of the LCR Adjudication, which is pending before the Superior Court of Arizona in Apache County.  The purpose of the Preliminary Hopi HSR is to provide the Hopi, the United States and interested parties with the opportunity to inspect the information that the Department has gathered and to file comments with the Department. The Navajo Nation filed a lawsuit in April 2003 against the Secretary of the Interior over the operation of the Colorado River.  A Federal judge has entered a stay in that case to allow negotiations with the State of Arizona and non-Indian water users about possible Navajo Nation claims to the Colorado River.



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