Desert Rock water grab alleged

Citizens and conservation groups continued to put the heat on the Desert Rock Power Plant last week. On July 20, the Energy Minerals Law Center issued a Freedom of Information Act request demanding records related to the proposed Desert Rock Energy Project’s water usage. The FOIA request was sent to the Bureau of Indian Affairs on behalf of Diné CARE (Citizens Against Ruining our Environment) and the San Juan Citizens Alliance.

The Navajo Nation and New Mexico’s congressmen have been actively urging federal approval of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project. The $1 billion pipeline would siphon as much as 180 cubic feet per second of water from the San Juan River and then pipe it south to the city of Gallup. Interestingly, the project would also authorize conveyance of water from the Animas-La Plata Project to the Navajo Nation.

The project is allegedly for domestic water supplies, but Diné CARE and the San Juan Citizen’s Alliance suspect there might be a connection to the Desert Rock project. The massive coal-fired Desert Rock power plant would require approximately 1.6 million gallons of water each year to operate.

“We are highly concerned that the Nation may be planning to use its water rights in the San Juan River basin to feed Desert Rock,” said Mike Eisenfeld of SJCA. “The draft environmental impact statement for Desert Rock indicates that there may not be enough groundwater for this project. So we need to start asking the question, where are they planning to get all of this water?”

The BIA’s environmental impact statement states that “on-site water wells” would be the most “logical way” to supply water to Desert Rock, but leaves the door open to “alternate sources of water.” At the same time, Desert Rock and the BIA have refused to disclose their water-use plans to the public, prompting last Friday’s FOIA request

“The entire draft environmental impact statement is about approving surface and water use agreements between the Navajo Nation and Desert Rock Energy Company,” said Brad Bartlett, an attorney with the Energy Minerals Law Center, “and yet none of these leases have been released to the public. The public has no idea what deals the agency is actually approving.”

Dailan Long, of Diné CARE, expressed concern that the Navajo people are being deceived. “This water should be for the Navajo people, not a massive energy project,” he said. “Many Navajo people living in this area do not have running water or electricity. If the Navajo Nation is planning on handing the people’s water over to the energy industry we need to know now. Why is our government keeping us in the dark on this?”

New OHV roads tied to pot hunting

Rogue off-highway vehicle routes have been tied to archeological destruction on nearby Cedar Mesa. Hikers recently discovered freshly dug pot-hunter pits in a newly documented archeological site in Recapture Wash, near Blanding. The vandalism occurred adjacent to an illegally constructed off-highway vehicle road.

The Bureau of Land Management has been asked by multiple organizations to close the area to vehicles to protect the significant cultural resources after the discovery of the illegal road more than 18 months ago. However, the agency has done nothing.

Ronni Egan, executive director of Great Old Broads for Wilderness, has been monitoring Recapture Wash since last fall and discovered the looting. “In spite of repeated requests from Broads, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the National Trust for Historic Preservation for the BLM to close this special canyon to motorized use, the BLM has taken no action whatsoever,” she said. “Now, these resources are being damaged and destroyed as a result of the easy motorized access that was illegally constructed.”Egan referenced a BLM report from November 2006 that states that the illegal OHV trail crosses through several significant cultural sites and is very near dozens of other sites. The report also stresses that “site features are being directly impacted along the existing ATV track.” The BLM’s findings concluded that “changes in accessibility of the canyon bottom and adjacent rim areas resulting from the existing ATV track development can be expected to hasten and increase indirect impacts to cultural resources here.”  

Jerry Spangler, of the Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance, has documented the connection between looting of archaeological sites and OHV access. “Any time you open up areas for motorized access, you open up areas for mischief,” he said. “Archaeological sites become more vulnerable from illegal and inappropriate activities associated with ORVs, whether intentional or inadvertent.” 

Egan noted that Recapture Wash is not the only place where illegal OHV roads are being linked with archeological destruction and the BLM is doing nothing. Illegal OHV roads have also been constructed in areas like Lime Ridge, Soda Basin and Piute Pass, and the BLM has not taken any enforcement action against the illegal activity.

“Until the BLM begins to enforce existing laws and prosecute those who are known to be doing the illegal route work, this type of resource desecration will continue and accelerate,” said Krisanne Bender, President of Bluff, Utah-based Canyon Country Heritage Association.  

NY Times profiles Southern Utes

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe got some big ink this week. On July 24, theNew York Times profiled the local tribe in a story entitled, “Indian Tribe Becomes Force in West’s Energy Boom.”

The story opens by noting that the tribe’s 700,000-acre reservation sits atop one of the world’s richest deposits of coalbed methane, and as a result the Southern Utes control the distribution of roughly 1 percent of the nation’s gas supply. The story puts the tribe’s net worth at approximately $4 billion.

The story then explains that some in La Plata County are “wary and even suspicious of the tribe’s newfound clout.”

Josh Joswick, former county commissioner and current San Juan Citizens Alliance organizer, commented, “The point is, no one knows what the tribe’s plans are.  I guarantee, it’ll have a bigger impact than any organization on this community and on the whole La Plata County.”

Clement Frost, the Southern Ute chairman, responded by saying, “I don’t think people outside can accept how quickly the tribe has progressed to where we’ve become a political and economic force.”

The story concludes by noting that the tribe offers its once impoverished members monthly stipends of $1,400, elder’s pensions of $65,000 a year and full scholarships and living allowances for college.

Mercy ranks among nation’s finest

Local health care received national accolades this week. A study of Mercy Regional Medical Center’s quality indicators ranked it among the top 10 percent of hospitals in the country.

Mercy was judged on 22 different “process of care measures.” The measures show how often hospitals provide some of the care that is recommended for patients having surgery or being treated for heart attack, heart failure or pneumonia. Mercy’s scores in nine of the 22 measures earned it “top hospital” designation by ranking it among top 10 percent of all U.S. hospitals. Mercy earned the status in four heart attack indicators, three pneumonia indicators, and one indicator each in heart failure and surgery.

“There are many different people who each have an important role in ensuring the delivery of the highest quality care,” said Nancy Hoyt, Mercy’s chief nursing officer. “These scores reflect Mercy’s facilitywide commitment to quality.” The indicators are tracked as part of the Hospital Quality Alliance, a public/private partnership led by the American Hospital Association, Federation of American Hospitals and Association of American Medical Colleges.

– compiled by Will Sands



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows