- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 26, 2002

PHOENIX A coal company is proposing to drill shafts into the Grand Canyon to tap the Colorado River.
Peabody Energy, the world's largest private coal company, needs a new water supply for its mining operations on the Navajo and Hopi reservations in northern Arizona. Its plan is drawing fire.
"It's just totally unacceptable. The Grand Canyon is one of our sacred places," said Geoff Barnard, president of the Grand Canyon Trust, a Flagstaff preservation group. "The Grand Canyon National Park's intent and purpose would be violated by a project like this."
Added Kelvin Long of the Black Mesa Water Coalition, another group opposed to the canyon pipeline: "It would scar the land and pollute the canyon. We're fighting to stop it."
The proposal calls for building a $125 million pumping station and pipeline within the national park. It would require drilling 1,200-foot-long shafts through the canyon rim.
Peabody spokeswoman Beth Sutton said the company had not committed to the plan. It is "an option that we're looking at. But we are continuing to look at other options," she said. "We want to resolve this issue in a way that will benefit all parties."
The St. Louis company has been operating Black Mesa mine on the reservations since 1970, leasing coal and water rights from the two tribes in return for more than $2 billion so far in royalty payments and other benefits.
Peabody, which also operates another coal mine in Kayenta, Ariz., buys about 3,800 acre-feet of aquifer water from the two tribes each year for nearly $4 million.
The groundwater is used in a 173-mile-long slurry pipeline that carries more than 13 million tons of low-sulfur coal to the Mohave Generating Station near Laughlin, Nev., and the Navajo Generating Station near Page, Ariz.
The two plants supply power to about 1.5 million customers in Arizona, California and Nevada.
The pipeline also supplies free potable water to the tribal communities from the aquifer beneath the reservations.
But the Hopis, worried that the aquifer's long-term supply could be strained by the region's expanding population, have set a 2005 deadline for Peabody to stop using that groundwater and look for an alternative source.
That led to a plan pushed last month by Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, to lease 6,500 acre-feet of Colorado River water annually for Peabody's mining operation and set the stage for the canyon project. The related legislation didn't come to a vote.
Neither Mr. Kyl nor Hopi officials returned several calls seeking comment on the proposed project.
Stanley Pollack, water rights counsel for the Navajo Nation, said: "All of the parties agree that finding an alternative water supply for the slurry line is necessary to ensure the long-term viability of Mohave and the Black Mesa mine. We're investigating other alternatives, including brackish water aquifers."
The proposed pipeline would begin at a diversion point on the river from Jackass Canyon, a popular hiking spot about eight miles downstream from Lees Ferry. It would wind along the Navajo reservation to Black Mesa on the Hopi reservation.
The Sierra Club has joined other environmental groups in denouncing the project, saying it would be an eyesore for rafters, hikers and fishermen using that portion of the canyon.
Mr. Long said his group is against any additional pipelines.
"The one Peabody has now has broken nine times in the last year," he said. "There are chemicals in it, and they seep into the ground. It kills livestock and vegetation."
Arizona Department of Environmental Quality officials said coal slurry is not considered toxic but can damage watersheds and threaten wildlife.
Mr. Barnard said Peabody should consider viable alternatives such as recycling the slurry water via a parallel pipeline or building a rail system to get the coal to the power plant.
"Building a rail would be cost-prohibitive and difficult to construct due to the terrain," Miss Sutton said. "The most viable option to transport coal would be continuing to use a pipeline."
The Mohave power plant wants to negotiate an extension of its coal-supply agreement for another 20 years.
Meanwhile, environmentalists are bracing for battle should a water-leasing bill for Peabody come before Capitol Hill lawmakers in the next session.
"What we want to do is work closely with Senator Kyl's office and Senator [John] McCain's office and find a satisfactory solution," Mr. Barnard said. "A pipeline in the Grand Canyon is not the way to go."


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