Water slurry pipeline depletes freshwater reserve in Arizona

A new book titled "Unreal City: Las Vegas, Black Mesa, and the Fate of the West" by Judith Nies highlights the less discussed story of how coal was strip-mined by Peabody Company from Black Mesa, a Navajo reserve, to provide coal for electrical generation plants that powered Las Vegas and Phoenix. The book also talks about the 1300 abandoned nuclear mines on 27,000 square miles of land home to 250,000 people (37 of them are on the Black Mesa land). These mines are still blowing radioactive dust from the 4 million tons of uranium mined across the Navajo nation.

The Black Mesa reservoir is also under threat today from three proposed pumped hydropower projects, proposed by “Nature and People First” headed by CEO Dennis Payre, who fled France to avoid paying a tax bill of $2.5 million dollars. The proposal includes nine reservoirs and other major infrastructure that would span nearly 50 miles and require 450,000 acre-feet from the Black Mesa aquifer, Colorado and San Juan rivers. But mainly the Black Mesa aquifer (and others nearby, none of them named) given that the entire state of Nevada only has allocation rights to 300,000-acre feet of the Colorado river.  Not with 90% of water in Las Vegas coming from these 300,000 acre feet.  This is three times more water than used for coal mining over 50 years. Plus an ongoing 8,000 acre-feet per year to replace evaporation losses. Biodiversity would suffer as well. This is an extremely water-starved region.

When you read how desperate Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Tucson are for electricity, it is possible these PHS projects will go through using only aquifer water, which these cities also depend on. Of course, this will not end well, and southwestern cities will be depopulated from migration to less energy-starved regions of the U.S. Though most people will give 100% credit to climate change, which is certainly making this happen sooner than it might have.

The Navajo did not want the coal on Black Mesa to be strip mined, but thousands of them were forced off the land to provide coal to four new electricity generation plants. One of them, the Mohave Generating Station, became the most polluting coal-fired plant in the United States. These plants sent electricity to Los Angeles and enabled Las Vegas to grow 129-fold from a small town of 5,000 and Phoenix to grow 48-fold. This destroyed some of our oldest sustainable Native American cultures so that people in Phoenix and Las Vegas can water their hundreds of golf courses and have swimming pools in the desert.

In as destructive a matter as possible. Instead of building a railroad to move the coal strip-mined by Peabody, the first coal slurry�pipeline delivery system in the sent the coal-water slurry 273 miles to distant power plants. After arrival the water was discarded with a huge centrifuge and evaporation ponds.  The Black Mesa coal-slurry pipeline was famous among water engineers for being the most appalling use of water in the water-scarce West.  To transport 5.5 million tons of coal a year required a monstrous 4,300 acre-feet (billion gallons) of Black Mesa aquifer a year. Water from an aquifer created in the ice age that will never be refilled from rainfall. This dried up many Navajo wells. Those that remained poisoned sheep with the sulfur, mercury, and heavy metals that had leached from the coal. On top of that, over 1300 abandoned nuclear mines still blowing radioactive dust on the Navajo reservation, many of them in the Black Mesa mining district.

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