Groups sue over PBS water documentary

Controversy is again flying over the Navajo Nation, but this time it concerns water not coal-fired power. A group of water users and environmentalists filed suit last week over a PBS documentary they are alleging is government and tribe-funded propaganda.

Produced by KNME-TV earlier this year, “The Water Haulers” examines the plight of some 70,000 Navajo who still do not have running water in their homes. The film has stirred up objections because it was jointly funded by the Navajo Tribe and the State of New Mexico and comes at a time when the two are trying to secure funding for the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project. The project is an ambitious attempt to siphon vast quantities of water from the San Juan River and pump it throughout the Navajo Nation.

The plaintiffs include Steve Cone, a schoolteacher and environmentalist in Farmington; a Four Corners environmental group, “Concerned About Animas Water;” and the San Juan Agricultural Water Users Association, which represents 15,000 water users on the San Juan River.

The lawsuit notes that “The Water Haulers” purports to be a news documentary and is often cited by the State of New Mexico and the Navajo Tribe as support for the proposed pipeline. However, the film does not adequately disclose that it was funded by the Navajo Nation and the state, according to the lawsuit. In addition, the PBS affiliate has never disclosed that “The Water Haulers” follows a script and story line provided by the state and the tribe.

Beyond that, the plaintiffs allege that State Engineer John D’Antonio and the tribe offered to fund the documentary only if it reflected their viewpoint, and the station largely followed their script and storyline. The lawsuit requests official records related to the film.

“‘The Water Haulers’ is a fake news documentary. In reality, it is a paid infomercial masquerading as news,” said Cone, one of the plaintiffs. “I’ve been a schoolteacher for about 30 years, and I rely on PBS as a valuable educational resource. This shakes my confidence in PBS. I really hope the national Public Broadcasting System will investigate and clean up this journalistic fraud.”

Late in 2003, the Navajo Nation and the U.S. government reached an agreement on water rights owed to the tribe. The gist of the settlement was that the Navajo Nation would agree to limit its share of San Juan River water to 322,000 acre-feet per year with no future claims. That water would then be transported by a yet-to-be built pipeline, which would siphon water out of the San Juan River in the vicinity of Shiprock and feed the eastern side of the reservation. As proposed, the pipeline would cost nearly $1 billion and take as much as 180 cubic feet second from the San Juan.

Opponents of the Desert Rock Power Plant allege that the water would be used to enable a third coal-fired power plant for the region and not provide drinking water as proposed. Meanwhile, the Navajo Nation is continuing an upstream search for funding of the project in Washington, D.C.


San Juan Biodiesel breaks ground

Alternative fuel will begin to bloom in the region this weekend. San Juan Biodiesel breaks ground on a biodiesel production facility this Sat., Sept. 8, in Dove Creek. When complete, the facility will produce 5 million gallons of biodiesel per year.

In 2007, San Juan Biodiesel contracted with 41 farmers for approximately 11,000 acres of sunflower crops stretching from Alamosa to Price, Utah. The bulk of that production is centered around Dove Creek in Dolores, Montezuma and Utah’s San Juan counties. In addition, the company has successfully raised the majority of its finances to build the production facility.

“As we climb past the 90 percent mark in raising the finances to construct the facility and purchase this year’s crop, we are thrilled to announce that construction of our facility will begin early this fall,” said Jeff Berman, San Juan Biodiesel general manager. “This would not have been possible without the assis

tance of so many farmers, investors, lenders, local governments, ski resorts and others that have participated in the process.”

The idea for San Juan Biodiesel was hatched in 2004 by Berman, then executive director of Colorado Wild. At the time, Berman was working with area ski resorts to get more biodiesel in their fleet vehicles. That idea led to a group of biodiesel fleet managers, area farmers and renewable energy proponents getting together and forming the cooperative.

The community is invited to the 3-6 p.m. groundbreaking. It will take place at 7099 Hwy 491 in Dove Creek.


Music festival names new conductor

Durango’s largest music festival gain new leadership this week. Following a two-year search, Music in the Mountains tapped Guillermo Figueroa as its new music director and conductor.

Figueroa is currently the music director and conductor of the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra and recently completed his sixth and final season as music director of the Puerto Rico Symphony, becoming that orchestra’s principal guest conductor.

Figueroa will be teamed with Greg Hustis, festival artistic director, in planning and producing future summer programs as well as the festival’s year-round education program in Southwest Colorado schools. Figueroa was chosen from a pool of seven candidates.

“The choice was difficult, because all of the candidates were highly qualified,” said Florence Mason, chair of the search committee. “There was praise for all of the guest conductors.”

Tom Jones, president of the Music in the Mountains board, added, “This is a significant artistic transition for Music in the Mountains – our first – and we expect it to help us move forward among the top ranks of summer music festivals.”

Mischa Semanitzky, who founded Music in the Mountains and guided it through 21 seasons, retired as artistic director and conductor at the end of the 2007 season. He has been given the title of founder and conductor laureate.


Local airport receives top marks

The Durango-La Plata County Airport recently received top marks from the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA conducted its annual certification inspection of the Durango-La Plata County Airport in August and found no discrepancies.  

The two-day inspection checked the airport’s compliance with relevant FAA regulations, and airport operations and emergency procedures manuals. The inspector examined 125 specific areas, including operational and inspection records, hazardous materials handling, firefighting proficiency, and airfield lighting and maintenance. During the rigorous exam, the airport met or exceeded all certification-compliance requirements.  

Ron Dent, director of aviation, credited Operations Manager Dennis Ray and his staff for the hard work and dedication necessary to achieve these excellent results. “This is a result of the commitment to safety and excellence from all of the airport staff,” he said.

– compiled by Will Sands



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