Category Archives: Drought

5/5/2011 Public News Service: Arizonans Call for Canyon Mining Moratorium

Public News Service: Arizonans Call for Canyon Mining Moratorium PHOENIX, Ariz. – Hundreds of thousands of Americans, including 36 Arizona groups, have weighed in to support a federal proposal for a 20-year ban on new uranium mining claims on 1 million acres near Grand Canyon National Park. A public comment period has just ended. The Obama administration is expected to decide the issue in the next few weeks. Lynn Hamilton is the executive director of Grand Canyon River Guides, a nonprofit group of professional river guides and individuals who love the Grand Canyon. She warns that runoff from existing uranium mines has already polluted several rivers, creeks and springs within the national park. “It’s really alarming for people to feel like the areas that they’re visiting and recreating in, which they consider to be wilderness areas, are tainted in this way.”

Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva and 62 other members of Congress have sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar urging him to approve the proposed 20-year moratorium. Several local governments and Native American tribal governments have also endorsed the proposed mining ban. The industry maintains that modern mining techniques prevent environmental damage.

Hamilton says Native Americans living in northern Arizona have been especially hard-hit by water pollution resulting from uranium mining.

“It’s really a deadly history. Many Native Americans have died from drinking tainted water or from using that water to sustain their livestock and crops when it’s contaminated.”

Hamilton also expresses concern about the potential effect on tourism from uranium mining claims that are “right on the doorstep” of the Grand Canyon.

“This is an area that draws 5 million visitors each year. It contributes almost $700 million annually to the regional economy.”

Grand Canyon tourism supports some 12,000 full-time jobs, she adds.

5/2/2011 Gallup Independent: Northeastern Arizona water rights settlement 'too expensive'

5/2/2011 Gallup Independent Northeastern Arizona water rights settlement ‘too expensive’ By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent:   WINDOW ROCK – The proposed $800 million Northeastern Arizona Indian Water Rights Settlement Agreement approved by the Navajo Nation last November is “too expensive” and will not be introduced to Congress in its current form, according to court documents.  An April 19 report from Arizona Superior Court Special Master George A. Schade Jr., states that parties to the settlement were informed March 24 by U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., that the proposed settlement is too expensive. Navajo Nation water rights attorney Stanley Pollack stated in the report that Kyl is unwilling to introduce legislation to authorize the settlement in its current form given the current political and fiscal climate in Washington.

However, Kyl encouraged the parties to reach new settlement language by June so that he might submit legislation to Congress prior to his retirement in 2012 at the end of the current Congress. Pollack informed Schade that the parties were scheduled to meet with Kyl last week in Phoenix to discuss possible terms. Since being advised that the proposed settlement is too expensive, the negotiating parties have been meeting to revise the terms and make it less costly.

The Navajo Nation’s San Juan River water rights settlement also had an estimated price tag of $800 million.

Pollack noted that terms approved Nov. 4, 2010, by the 21st Navajo Nation Council for the Northeastern Arizona settlement are no longer up for consideration because the settlement does not have a chance for success in Congress. No action was taken by the Hopi Tribe, as the document had not gone out to the villages for consideration by the Hopi people.

Under the proposed agreement – which had grassroots Navajos marching on Window Rock in protest – the Navajo Nation would receive 31,000 acre-feet of “fourth priority” water per year, while Navajo Generating Station would receive 34,100 acre-feet per year of Upper Basin water for its continued operation.

Any new settlement terms will require approval by the 22nd Navajo Nation Council and the 32 other parties to the settlement. Pollack reported that he does not anticipate that the terms will be approved by the time federal legislation is introduced.

When contacted Friday, Pollack said he was “hamstrung” from discussing the matter by confidentiality orders, however, he did say, “The Arizona discussions are not dead.”

The settlement springs from the Little Colorado River adjudication which has been ongoing since March 14, 2003, when the Navajo Nation took legal action challenging the Secretary of the Interior’s operation of various management programs in the Lower Basin of the Colorado River. Numerous parties have since intervened, among them the state of Arizona, Central Arizona Water Conservation District, Salt River Project, Arizona Power Authority, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and the state of Nevada.

The Navajo Nation and the United States stipulated to granting all motions to intervene and to a two-year stay of the litigation so the Interior could appoint an Indian water rights settlement team and pursue efforts to resolve the Nation’s water rights claims through negotiation and settlement.

On April 12, parties involved in the case requested a four-month extension of stay until Aug. 15 in the federal court case, the Navajo Nation v. United States Department of the Interior, et al., and U.S. District Court Judge Paul Rosenblatt granted the stay April 19. The court has repeatedly granted extensions of the original stay issued in October 2004.

Water from the Little Colorado River system could affect the magnitude of the Nation’s claim to water from the main stem Colorado River. In 2005, the parties acknowledged that resources within the Little Colorado River Basin are not sufficient to secure a permanent homeland for the Navajo people. The “Kyl Report” and other studies have reached the conclusion that there would be a need for some imported water supplies from the Colorado River.

During November’s protest in Window Rock, Jeneda Benally said the Navajo people were opposed to having their water rights “sold out underneath us, because our future generations … are going to be affected by this decision, and 31,000 acre-feet of water is not enough. We need to be able to sustain ourselves as a people, and for that we need water. Water is life.”

Many of the grassroots people also were upset that the language called for waiving all “past, present and future claims for water rights arising from time immemorial” that are based upon aboriginal occupancy. Navajo also would waive any claims for injury to water quality – another concern of residents who have been impacted by past coal and uranium mining.

4/28/2011Gallup Independent: Monestersky nominated to national advisory council

Monestersky nominated to national advisory council By Kathy Helms, Dine Bureau, Gallup Independent, 4/28/2011: WINDOW ROCK – Marsha Monestersky, program manager for the Forgotten People, has been nominated to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Drinking Water Advisory Council to represent the Southwest region. Monestersky was notified April 11 that she is among the nominees to fill five vacancies on the national council. The positions must be filled before May and the advisory council is now carrying out the steps associated with an extensive clearance process so the materials can be presented to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson for approval. “I am thankful and blessed that the U.S. EPA and the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water nominated me to serve on the National Drinking Water Advisory Council and appreciates my interest and willingness to commit time and effort to ensure that the nation’s drinking water is safe,” Monestersky said.

“Safe drinking water is the most precious resource of all, more precious than gold. Access to safe drinking water is a human right. Scarce water supplies in the western United States and climate change will worsen. We need to take action to plan.”

The advisory council includes five members from state and local agencies concerned with drinking water; five members from interest groups concerned with drinking water; and five members from the general public. In addition, two of the 15 members on the council represent small drinking water systems.

Over the past two decades Monestersky has worked on a wide range of environmental issues confronting the Dine people living within the western portion of the Navajo Nation. Much of her work has involved efforts to improve access to safe drinking water for residents in the Bennett Freeze area, especially in the vicinity of Black Falls, Box Springs and Grand Falls where residents have been drinking uranium- and arsenic-contaminated water from livestock watering points.

In February 2009, Forgotten People completed a U.S. EPA Environmental Justice Small Grant to provide safe drinking water to Black Falls residents. The project was expanded using additional private donations to include storage and distribution systems for 10 homes. They also created a community water-hauling service and worked with EPA and Indian Health Service to design and construct bathrooms and sanitation systems for the homes.

Through the efforts of Monestersky and the Forgotten People, the Navajo Nation issued a historic Public Health State of Emergency in January 2009 for residents of the northwestern Leupp and southeastern Cameron chapters. With money provided by U.S. EPA, Navajo Water Resources purchased five water-hauling trucks and after two years of delay, delivered the first truckload of safe drinking water to residents from the Black Falls/Box Springs/Grand Falls area on April 8.

“The success we have achieved in the Black Falls region for water haulers demonstrates the power of collaborative partnerships with academic institutions, tribal and federal agencies, pastors and faith-based groups,” Monestersky said. “As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, under the Obama administration I have witnessed U.S. EPA bring science and protection back to this agency and hope to contribute to the work of the National Drinking Water Advisory Council.”

Norris Nez, a Navajo medicine man, sent a letter of support to EPA on Monestersky’s behalf, saying he views her as a competent and responsible woman with wisdom and understanding of life. “I feel that she is capable and understands what the issues are and the needs and concerns of the people in our region and throughout the planet.”

Clancy Tenley, assistant director of EPA’s Superfund program, told Monestersky in March, “We appreciate the partnership of our organizations which has resulted in significant progress in recent years.” Between Forgotten People, U.S. and Navajo EPA, Navajo Department of Water Resources, Indian Health Service and others, “more has been done to address critical water issues in this region (Black Falls) than any place I know. Of course, more needs to be done.”

James W. Zion of Albuquerque, attorney for the Forgotten People, also recommended Monestersky to EPA. “I cannot think of anyone who can better give the advisory council relevant information on the needs of Indian Country or the application of emerging international norms on the right to water,” he said.