Shutdown of Peabody pumps imminent
Navajo Hopi Observer 12.20.05
The Good News! Countdown to the shutdown of Peabody’s pumps has started. The
success of our monumental struggle to preserve our sole-source drinking
water is proof of the power of grassroots Navajo and Hopi people. All of you and
all the people around the world who heeded our call are the true heroes. Not
me; I am just a simple coyote messenger.
The Bad News! When Peabody pumps shut down, the brackish water from aquifers
overlying the N-aquifer could begin seeping into that aquifer, thereby
permanently contaminating the pristine water.
This possibility is confirmed by reports from a hydrologist working for the
Navajo Nation in 1984 and a statement by a Peabody official during an
interview with Mr. Bill Havens, former Chief of Staff to Chairman Ferrell Secakuku.
The Navajo report explained that Ted Smith, Peabody Manager for
Environmental Studies said, “All wells [are] pumping from four aquifers
specifically mentioning the “Navajo, Entrada, Morrison, and Dakota” aquifers.
Peabody has seven or eight producing wells on its leasehold area.
The Peabody official also said the coal company had to relocate wells due to
scale build-up and sand problems. The Navajo hydrologist said this could be
a preliminary indication of that the aquifers were starting to collapse due
to pumping far in excess of recharge.
Since the pumping started in 1970, Peabody has increased its initial
projected pumping rate by 50 percent, ignoring a warning from Thomas Stetson,
Peabody consultant engineer, that the excessively high production rate could cause
serious damage to the N-aquifer.
Two years ago Navajo people living adjacent to the mining area began
noticing the appearance of sinkholes and started mapping their locations. Back in
1970, the Hopi elders warned that the earth would start to break up due to
Back in 1994, Mr. Havens interviewed the public relations official for
Peabody regarding the coal company’s impact on the N-aquifer. The official
explained that Peabody was pumping less N-aquifer water than anticipated because the
well casings above the N-aquifer well head are perforated to allow siphoning
off waters from overlying aquifers, thus reducing the stress on the
When asked about the risk of N-aquifer contamination by seepage of water
from overlying aquifers, the Peabody official said, “Only if we stop pumping.”
On Dec. 31, some or all of Peabody’s pumps will finally stop. Ending Peabody
pumping, however, could be a bittersweet victory if our sole-source water is
The Navajo hydrologist recommended to Mike Nelson, Assistant to the
President and Vice-President of the Navajo Nation, that an inspection team of Office
of Surface Mining (OSM) personnel, and Hopi and Navajo tribal representatives
be provided with all data on each well. The hydrologist further stated, “It
is imperative that we examine the casing of each well by lowering a camera so
that we can see the condition of the casings, the appearance of the water in
the wells, and the location and the extent of the perforations.”
Now is the time to carry out that recommendation. Not only should Navajo,
Hopi and OSM hydrologists have access to all well data and conditions for all
the producing and non-producing wells, but we should also insist that OSM
collect water samples from Peabody wells and all of the observation-monitoring
wells for the purpose of establishing base-line data on water quality and to
find out if water levels in the N-aquifer will recover as rapidly as OSM is
predicting when the pumps shut down. This data will be a useful reference for