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Chapter #176: Holbrook, AZ Water Crisis - Ch. 3 - April 22, 2011


Searching for water in the Arizona desert, Kokopelli plays his magic flute - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 

Holbrook Basin, Arizona

Water Creation Myth 

 
A broad range of historical studies indicate that the aquifers of Northeastern Arizona may be over-subscribed. Still other studies predict long-term, persistent drought throughout the area. Sparse winter rains and the thunderstorms of summer are the only replenishment sources for aquifers in the Little Colorado River Basin. Most of the available moisture will either evaporate or runoff into the Colorado River. Long-term drought in the Four Corners states places stress on ecosystems throughout the High Southwest.
 
A micro-burst dust storm descends upon Monument Valley, Utah/Arizona - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)An easy way to gauge dryness in a desert environment is the frequency and intensity of regional dust storms. By that standard, the Four Corners states are now drier than at any time since the Great Disappearance, around 1300 CE. Even so, we are now on a fast-track to pump large amounts of water from these irreplaceable sources. A recent news report suggests that Passport Potash, Inc. plans an in-situ recovery (ISR), hydraulic-injection mine on their Twin Buttes Ranch property near Holbrook, Arizona. In March 2011, a Passport Potash mining engineer told the press that Passport Potash, Inc. hopes to pump up to 2000 gallons per minute from wells within the Holbrook Basin aquifer.
 
At first, 2000 gallons per minute does not sound like a large amount of water. However, pumping at that rate for one full year would produce over one billion gallons of water. One billion gallons equals over 3000 acre feet of water. If each three-person household used one quarter of an acre foot per year, Passport Potash water requirements would be equivalent to over 38,000 domestic water users. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Navajo County, of which the City of Holbrook is the county seat, had a 2016 population of 110,026. Thus, if Passport Potash reaches full production, it alone will pump water equal to one third of all domestic water use within Navajo County.
 
A regional dust storm in Monument Valley, Arizona/Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Through their creation myth, the Hopi people tell us that all water is both sacred and connected. In what could be a lapse of ancestral memory, the Hopi new lands trust appears to have granted eighteen sections of their Holbrook Basin water rights to Passport Potash. If the southern aquifers of the Holbrook Basin are pumped dry, it will be only a matter of time before the drought worsens in both Navajo and Hopi reservations. The elders within the Hopi new lands trust might want to check their pre ancestral memories regarding drought and its consequences. For decades, scientists have known that around 1300 CE, drought brought an end to Pre-Puebloan cultures within the Colorado River Basin. The Hopi creation myth was founded in fact, not fantasy. If they have the fortitude to retain, rather than to sell their hard-won water rights, the Hopi people may yet avoid watching their ancient and venerable culture dry up and blow away.
 
Potential potash producers now lure the Hopi, Navajo, Zuni and other tribes with prospects of employment. Touting well-paying jobs and generations of employment for local citizens, they predict that ISR mines will still produce potash and jobs a century from now. One hundred years of operations at the proposed Holbrook Basin mines would require 100,000,000,000 gallons of water. Does anyone seriously believe that the Holbrook Basin aquifers hold one hundred billion gallons of water, free for the taking?
 
Finished potash, spilled at a loading dock near Moab, Utah - Click for larger image. (http://jamesmcgillis.com)I wonder what has happened to the Arizona State and federal agencies who are stakeholders in the Little Colorado River Basin. Other than the mining authorities, I could find no published position statement on behalf of any agency. Do the Department of Interior, the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs and the U.S. Geological Survey have no opinion at all regarding this issue? Unless someone or some agency steps in and demands a region-wide approach to water use planning, continued depletion of the Little Colorado River aquifers is a near certainty.
Author's Note: Article updated 9/2/2017
 
Read Chapter One – The Little Colorado River Basin
Read Chapter Two – Holbrook, Arizona Basin - Potash
Read Chapter Four - Colorado River Watershed At Risk
Email James McGillisEmail James McGillis
 

By James McGillis at 12:02 AM | Environment | Comments (0) | Link

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