Saturday, September 28, 2013

Superheroes Disaster Movie Script

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Plush Kokopelli and the Other, reflected in a pothole, somewhere in the SouthwestThe only known image of Moabbey the CoyoteThe Navajo Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant near Page, ArizonaPlush Kokopelli and Coney the Traffic Cone four-wheeling in Arches National Park, Utah
Superheroes Disaster Movie Script
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Moab Ranch, UT

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Superheroes Disaster Movie Script

Moabbey writes a script for a superhero disaster movie

Moab Ranch, UT, September 29, 2013 Author: Jim McGillis
After an extended vacation at Wigwam Village Motel (AKA the Cozy Cone Motel) in Holbrook, Arizona, the superheroes returned to Moab Ranch.

Sitting on the front porch in the afternoon sun, Silver Girl asked, "Do you remember when we first met, back in 1991? The Other had just returned from Hollywood, where he had pitched Moabbeys movie script to the executives at Atlantis Pictures."

"Yes," said Coney the Traffic Cone. "They laughed him out of the studio, saying, 'You want us to green light a movie about a coyote, a plastic traffic cone, a mythical flute player and a metalized girl? No one would believe that.'"

From a shadow in the corner, Moabbey the Coyote remarked, "All of these years later, at least we proved that we exist. Kokopelli and Coney have traveled the Four Corners region. There are pictures of Plush Kokopelli and Coney all over the internet."

"Good point", said Silver Girl. "But werent we supposed to save the world, thus proving our superhero abilities?"

"I have a plan", said Moabbey. "I reworked our movie script to make it into a disaster movie." He went on, "What makes a disaster movie so compelling is its realism. From the comfort of an air-conditioned theater, the audience can visualize wide scale destruction. The script for our disaster movie starts in a Phoenix movie house."

"Here is my pitch. - A patron in a Phoenix theater watches a movie is about water, coal and electrical power in the West. Everything centers on the Colorado River. In the Upper Colorado River Basin, there has been an extreme drought. In Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona, there has been a protracted hot summer.

Behind Glen Canyon Dam, at Lake Powell, the water level falls to unprecedented low levels. When the siphons from the lake can no longer supply water to the Navajo Generating Station, the plant goes haywire. Belching coal smoke and nitrous oxide, its three massive flue-gas-stacks collapse in a heap on the ground.

In the Lower Colorado River Basin at Lake Havasu, power transmission from the Navajo Generating Station abruptly terminates. As the siphons and pumps of the Central Arizona Project can no longer lift water over the Buckskin Mountains and on to Phoenix and Tucson, the CAP canal runs dry. With overall water supplies cut by eighty percent, Phoenix cuts its water usage by only half that amount.

Soon, reservoirs run dry and Phoenix cuts water usage to a minimum. Because Phoenix saves so much water, there is insufficient effluent to keep the sewage plants operating. That curtails the delivery of treated wastewater to the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, west of Phoenix. The Salt River Project utility resorts to pumping ground water in order to cool the nuclear reactors at Palo Verde.

As the Tonopah Aquifer retreats farther underground, one by one, each of the four nuclear reactors at Palo Verde goes off-line and shuts down. With curtailed electrical supply in Phoenix and Tucson, there is insufficient power to keep air conditioners running. In this 'movie within the movie', the residents of Southern Arizona panic and try to leave en mass. Credits roll and the theater lights come up. After the movie, as the theater patrons leave the auditorium, they find that the toilets will not flush and that the water taps in the restrooms are dry.

As they exit the theater, our disaster movie becomes a survival movie. With a near empty water system, only those Arizonians who planned will survive the trek across the desert. For weeks, everything from RV's to motorcycles clogs the roads leading to California. When they pass over the Colorado River at Yuma, Needles or Blythe, the former Arizonians find that the Colorado River channel is now a dry arroyo.

In the new superheroes disaster movie, Coney the Traffic Cone wants to crash his helicopter into the Navajo Generating Station

Coney the Traffic Cone
Daredevil Pilot

As immigrants and the poor leave Arizona in droves, there is no one left to provide services to the wealthy. Too late, Arizona repeals its anti-immigrant SB 1070 statute. As an incentive, Arizona offers immigrants, both legal and illegal a small share of the water and power still available. Then, as now, only with a significant immigrant population can the wealthy live their chosen desert lifestyle.

Unable to revert to its former ranching, mining and semi-rural economy, the outlying suburbs of Maricopa, Pinal and Pima Counties are the first to go dry. Old copies of Arizona Highways Magazine look new again. Ghost towns, like Casa Grande, Arizona feature both Hohokam ruins and abandoned regional shopping centers, which have gone to seed.

Soon after millions of Arizonians arrive at refugee camps in Southern California, Northern California declares itself a separate state and then curtails water deliveries to the unwashed south. Having no other plans, the displaced Arizonians and many Southern Californians leave town. Depending on their proclivities, they drive to either Burning Man or Las Vegas, Nevada. The movie ends with a huge party at each venue.

As the credits roll, the patron we first saw in the Phoenix movie theater wakes up. With popcorn all over his lap, he is still sitting in his theater seat. Stretching and then arising, he says to no one in particular, "Thank goodness that was only a dream".

"You have to admit", exclaimed Moabbey, "this movie script is too good not to produce. I hope Hollywood remembers, they read it here first."

"Great story, Moabbey," said Silver Girl, "but what role do we superheroes play in all of this?"

"As the movie opens," replied Moabbey, "we all appear here at Moab Ranch, discussing the script. Then the Other can act out the scenes where Atlantis Pictures again refuses to make our movie. In an act of hubris, Atlantis Pictures then steals our script and makes the movie without us.

While filming on location at Lake Powell, their camera helicopter crashes into the Navajo Generating Station, destroying the place. That, of course, triggers the disaster scenario from our new script. In our movie, we become superheroes by writing the script and getting the movie made, not by acting out every bit of action."

"I think I get it", said Coney. "In our movie, may I pilot the helicopter that crashes into the coal-fired power plant? I never did like that place."

"Plush Kokopelli exists in five dimensions and has more than nine lives, so we will leave any aerobatics and explosions to him", replied Moabbey.

After they all laughed about Coney piloting a helicopter, the Other went inside and packed his bag. Before sunrise, he would leave for Hollywood. Later that day, he had an appointment to pitch Moabbeys new script to the executives at Atlantis Pictures.

To be continued...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Trading Post and Art Gallery at Cow Springs, AZ Disappear

Marjorie Reed Painting - Moonilght Visit to Cow Springs - Click for larger image (

The Trading Post and Art Gallery at Cow Springs, Arizona return to their Sandstone Origins

After witnessing the disappearance of Black Mesa Mine, I wondered what else might be fading away within sacred Navajo and Hopi lands. Thirty miles south of Black Mesa, for almost a century, Cow Springs Trading Post survived and prospered. The documented history of Cow Springs is spotty, at best. Most references to the place are in footnotes or old field-notes. Around 1970, when the last Cow Springs Trading Post closed, the place began its slow-motion disappearance.

Cow Springs, Arizona, on the Navajo Reservation, U.S. Highway 160, south of Kayenta and north of Tuba City - Click for larger image ( 1983, U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 27 stated, “The unusual light gray Entrada Sandstone in the area was named Cow Springs Sandstone by Harshbarger and others in 1951. They described it as, “a cross-stratified bleached sandstone that lies between the Entrada Sandstone and Dakota Formation”. It is entirely older than the Morrison Formation and the Romana Sandstone, found elsewhere in the Colorado Plateau.”

The Cow Springs sandstone occupies a considerable interval in the Jurassic Stratigraphic Period. The Jurassic period existed long before the Tertiary Stratigraphic Period, when most of earth’s coal deposits appeared. At more than 150 million years in age, Cow Springs occupies an ancient place in Notice the faces evident in the larger version of this image of the 'Elephant's Feet' pillars at Cow Springs, Arizona - Click for larger image ( history.

The earliest historical mention of Cow Springs involves the Spaniard, Vizcarra, during his 1823 campaign. In an obvious reference to the nearby Elephant's Feet pillars, Vizcarra and his compatriots named Cow Springs Wash "El Arroyo de los Pilares". For almost one hundred fifty years after Vizcarra's visit, Cow Springs disappeared from historical consciousness. Decades later, perhaps in the early twentieth century, someone again documented the existence of the place. “East of the sandhills, bordering Red Valley runs Cow Springs Canyon and Wash. Up this canyon from the springs, George McAdams set up a summer and fall trading camp 1882”.

During a brief period when Indian trader J. L. Hubbell Jr. owned it in the Forty years of coal mining dropped the water table so low that this mustang at the Cow Springs Trading post was reduced to a skull, mane and a few ribs - Click for larger image (, Joe Isaac managed the Cow Springs Trading Post. Son of Joe Isaac, Lawrence Isaac Sr., ran the coalmine at Cow Springs from the 1930s until the 1950s. According to Geological Survey Professional Paper, Volume 521, the mine operated on coal-rich Black Mesa, seven miles east of Cow Springs. By the 1970s, coal extraction attributed to the old Peabody Western Coal Company would come to dominate the economies of both the Navajo and the Hopi tribes.

In 1889, David, George, William, Charles, and Edward Babbitt established the Babbitt Brothers Trading Company in Flagstaff, Arizona. Later, they owned a series of trading posts and other businesses in the northern part of the state. Babbitt's Wholesale, Inc. and the Babbitt family have been distributors of Pendleton blankets and accessories across the Southwest for more than one hundred twenty years. Some of the best-known Babbitt posts were located at Tuba City, Willow Springs, Canyon Diablo, Cedar Ridge, Tolchaco, Indian Wells and the ancient town of Oraibi.

Notably absent from that list is the Cow Springs Trading Post, first operated by the Babbitt's in 1895. “So by the time I became involved in our trading Cow Springs (Begashonto) Trading Post ca. 1930 - Click for larger image (, it was already becoming a dying part of our family’s business. From the time I started in the business, we had five trading posts. Today, 1999, we are down to only two—Tuba City and Red Lake. We closed down Cedar Ridge Trading Post, we closed down Cow Springs Trading Post” - Jim Babbitt, Babbitt Brothers Trading Co. oral history.

The Babbitt Brothers used sandstone boulders for the chimney at the new Cow Springs Trading Post in the mid-1960s - Click for larger image (

On August 14, 1938, there were recorded bird sightings at “Cow Springs Lake”, which was not far from a similar sighting at Red Lake (now Tonalea, elevation 5010) in Coconino County, Arizona. Red Lake was another old trading post site, just south of the Elephant's Feet pillars on U.S. Highway 160. At that site today, there is a general store, which provides Pepsi and hay bales to local residents.  Today, there is no flowing water at Cow Springs, nor is there much of a lake at Red Lake. Only a seasonal pond, which stands south of the highway at Tonalea, hints at Red Lake's historical status as a year-around lake. With the long-term drying of the local climate, Red Lake disappears into a dusty plain. Now, Cow Springs Lake faces the prospect of a similar fate.

At the crossroads of Begashibito (Béégashi Bito'), or Cow Springs, and the old road to Shonto, is the possible location for "Luke Smith's store". Even in the 
In 2009, this sullen looking Navajo brave stared out from the front wall of the Cow Springs Trading Post - Click for 2013 image ( days, traders looked to create catchy names for their trading posts. Begashibito plus Shonto morphed into the new Navajo word, . In a larger version of the circa 1929 image (above right) on this page, “Begashonto” appears on the sign in front of the store.

In the early 1960s, highway engineers realigned old Arizona 264. The new U.S. Highway 160 bypassed the tiny hamlet of Cow Springs, thus forcing relocation of the old Cow Springs Trading Post. Even with its prominent new location on a busier highway, the trading post did not survive for long. Today, a pole-sign, some graffiti covered walls and a stone-topped chimney are all that remain. With its business lifespan cut short, there are no published pictures of the Highway 160 Cow Springs Trading Post while in operation.

The old Standard Oil Products pole sign is the most prominent feature of the Cow Springs Trading Post today - Click for larger image ( its imposing pole sign declaring “Standard Oil Products”, the ruin helps break the monotony along that stretch of highway. In 2009, I stopped at the Cow Springs Trading Post. Until they changed corporate colors in the 1960s, the old Standard Oil Company of California utilized white lettering on a brown background for signage on their west coast service stations. After decades exposed to sun, rain and wind, large portions of brown and white paint now fly away. Like the stratification record for the Cow Springs Sandstone, layers of paint intermingle as they erode through paint and primer. Completing a cycle, in 2013 the original words “Cow” and “Post” reasserted themselves at either end of the sign.

In the 1960s, improved highways and reliable automobiles meant that A 2011 image of a stylized Navajo Female Warrior, by artist "Mythos", on the north wall of the Cow Springs Trading Post on Highway 160 in Arizona - Click for 2013 image ( had greater range and options. With its unusual name and remote location, tourists often bypassed places like Cow Canyon Trading Post. They might, however be attracted to an iconic brand name, like “Standard Oil Products”, thus stopping there for fuel and provisions. Even today, the size, height and immensity of the Cow Springs sign create an imposing sight. Only the height of its steel poles has prevented untold repainting with graffiti art.

At various times over the years, I have stopped to investigate the ruins of Cow Springs Trading Post. By the time I first stopped in 2007, there was no roof and various partition walls were missing. There were no signs of a fire, so someone may have removed and repurposed the roof beams elsewhere. Also absent was almost any form of scrap lumber. Known for its cold winter nights, In 2011, a Golden Eagle with wings spread and talons showing is only partially obscured by random graffiti - Click for 2012 image of destruction - ( residents may have collected and burned any scraps of wood remaining at Cow Springs.

Despite the derelict nature of the building, a spray painted combination of angst-ridden poetry and high art filled various panels. With each subsequent visit, more holes appeared in the walls. Successively, additional hits of graffiti obscured or defaced many of the more artistic panels. Additional sections of block wall tumbled, some with their artwork still intact. In one case, wall art became floor art.

In order to topple walls or make new holes, ad hoc wrecking crews employed sledgehammers. With less space to express new poetry and art, the hope and pride expressed in the early artwork later turned taciturn and reticent. Visionary A Cheshire Cat stares through eyes that are holes in the wall at Cow Springs Trading Post, Arizona - Click for larger image ( of a Navajo warrior and a Golden Eagle disappeared under gang-style monikers and random bursts of paint. In a stroke of spontaneous irony, a spray-paint cartoonist used several of the holes to elucidate facial features in his characters. Dystopian anger at the human condition ran through several muddled poems.

Just when artistic expression at Cow Springs reached an all-time low, a new artist with a new medium arrived on the scene. Almost overnight, he covered several walls with his wheat-paste photo murals. Hailing from Inscription House, elsewhere on the Navajo Reservation, that artist goes by the name of Jetsonorama. He selects photos from his collection, enlarges them at a print shop, and then cuts them out on his kitchen floor. Utilizing wheat paste - a mixture of Bluebird flour (favored by A partially destroyed Jetsonorama photo mural at Cow Springs Trading Post, Arizona, 2012 - Click for larger image ( grandmas), sugar and water - he attaches them, pane by pane, to places like the Cow Springs Trading Post. His photo murals echo life on the land, almost as fleeting in the wind and weather as the moments captured in the photos themselves.

Although not a Native American, Jetsonorama is the only permanent physician at an Indian Health Service's clinic. In his blog and elsewhere Jetsonorama said, “I’m trying to present especially positive images of the Navajo on the reservation - to inject an element of beauty, an element of surprise and an element, hopefully, of pride." From the first moment I saw Jetsonorama’s Cow Springs work, it inspired me. His photo murals can be vibrant on one visit and completely gone on the next. In July 2013, when I last visited Cow Springs, not a trace of Jetsonorama’s original work had Now lying on the floor at the ruins of Cow Springs Trading Post, "The Prophet" adorned a prominent wall, prior to its destruction - Click for wall version of the painting (

Although I have no problem visiting the ruins of Cow Springs Trading Post during the day, I would not stop at night. Apparently, a few latter-day graffiti artists still frequent the place, along with the ad hoc wrecking crews. Recent poetic evidence tells me that Cow Springs is now a hangout for the “down and out” or disaffected. Once, Cow Springs supported vibrant trade. Later, it supported highway art. With one wall after another now falling to ruin, soon the site shall support nothing more than spirits and pre-ancestral memories.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Navajo and Hopi Nations Remain Locked in an Old Energy Dance with Peabody Energy

Old Energy signage at the ruins of Cow Springs Trading Post near Black Mesa, Arizona - Click for larger image (

Navajo and Hopi Nations Remain Locked in an Old Energy Dance with Peabody Energy

In their homes, the Navajo and Hopi often burn coal for heat, which leads to a prevalence of respiratory illness. With coal at an average price of $90/ton, it would take $875 worth of wood to obtain the same amount of heat. With electrical transmission lines absent over much of the reservation, electrical heating is not an option. Even if available, electricity would cost far more than coal, wood or sparsely available propane.

At Cow Springs Trading Post, the artist Jetsonorama used wheat paste photo murals to depict the threat of coal on future generations of Navajo and Hopi tribes - Click for larger image ( artist Jetsonorama lives in Inscription House, in northeastern Arizona. There he is the only permanent physician at the Indian Health Service's Inscription House Health Center. Although not a Native American, his wheat-paste photo murals periodically appear on crumbling or abandoned walls throughout the Navajo Reservation. Several years ago, at the ruin of the Cow Springs Trading Post, multiple copies of the artist’s work appeared.

A memorable series of Jetsonorama’s posters featured a beautiful Navajo baby. Shown with a large lump of coal looming over its head, the Navajo baby represents Jetsonorama's message that energy from coal contributes to climate change. At the time, he called it, "a metaphorical black cloud over the head of future generations, if we keep burning fossil fuels."

The window of clean-air opportunity closes at the ruins of Cow Springs Trading Post, located near Peabody Energy's Black Mesa strip-mine - Click for larger image ( part of the agreement between Peabody Energy and the Navajo Nation, the Black Mesa Complex is obligated to provide free coal to any local Native American family. In the fall and winter, when residents seek coal for their stoves, trucks and trailers often clog the road up to Black Mesa. Fully twenty-five percent of residential coal stoves on the Navajo Reservation began life burning something other than coal. Free coal or not, unacceptable levels of smoke and ash often enter the living areas of coal-heated homes.

With its three 775 ft. tall flue gas stacks sending coal smoke into the upper atmosphere, local residents may not notice emissions emanating from Navajo Generating Station (NGS). The heat island effect created by NGS keeps a near-permanent updraft operating in the immediate area. Depending on the Fine particulates and gasses in the air make for spectacular sunsets at Navajo National Monument, Arizona - Click for larger image ( winds, however, NGS coal smoke and its nitrous oxide haze may settle near or far, anywhere in Four Corner country. In summer, coal smoke from NGS and other Arizona coal-fired plants affects cities as far away as Durango, Colorado.

The burning of coal near ground-level is more detrimental to the health of local residents than the NGS stack emissions. Burning slowly, but continuously over the winter months, each residential coal stove is a constant source of air and water pollution. It takes relatively few inefficient coal stoves to affect an entire community. In winter, when the air is often cold and still, residential coal smoke pools near its source. Thus, residents of places like Cow Springs, which sits in a depression midway between Black Mesa and NGS, may experience both residential and NGS coal smoke.

The author, Jim McGillis on a hazy afternoon at the Grand Canyon in 2007 - Click for larger image ( have a proposal for Peabody Energy and its partners, the Navajo Tribal Energy Authority (NTUA), NGS and the Salt River Project (SRP), which owns the Central Arizona Project (CAP). Instead of removing all outward signs of Peabody Energy’s existence from the Navajo Reservation, the coal mining company and its partners should provide relief to the Navajo who need and deserve it most.

At a minimum, the utility consortium should provide pollution controls for any residential coal-burning stove from Kayenta to LeChee. If no such emission-controlled stoves are available, the consortium should provide propane-heating systems to all current coal-burning families. Although they deny it, Peabody Energy has a record of misuse and abuse of the Navajo Nation and its resources. To make up for their excesses, providing subsidized, clean heat and electricity to several thousand Navajo families is the least that they can do.

Shadows in the foreground give way to smoke and haze above the North Rim of the Grand Canyon - Click for larger image ( writing about coal, water and the Southwest, it is easy to become morose and believe nothing in our fossil-fueled political environment will ever change. However, there is some good news. According to a recent Los Angeles Times article, college students from all over the U.S. are raising their consciousness regarding the effects of fossil fuels. In one college or university after another, groups and individuals now step forward to assert their power. Students who have never seen a coal plant or choked on coal smoke realize that their actions can make a difference to all who breathe.

Student campaigns such as “Fossil Free UC” have made their mark on policy. Recently, the fundraising foundation for San Francisco State University committed to selling stocks and bonds of companies with significant coal and tar sands holdings. If all three hundred colleges and universities targeted by the “fossil free” advocates join in, the true cost of coal mining and coal burning would become obvious. As our collective investment in Old Energy wanes, that capital can migrate to development and construction of new energy alternatives.

Use of home-based solar collectors could reduce the carbon footprint of coal mining and coal burning on the Navajo Reservation - Click for larger image ( Navajo and Hopi reservations exist within a desert region. Why not use home-based solar on the reservation to decrease dependency on coal fire? If every Navajo home were to feed power back into the electrical grid, "reverse carbon credits" could allow cleaner propane heating to replace residential coal stoves. The result would be a construction boom unlike any ever seen in the Four Corners country.

No worker ever contracted black lung disease while installing solar panels or a propane heating system. With excess energy flowing back into the grid, NGS could power-down to a lower level. As a result, we could save Navajo and Hopi land, water and air resources for the use of future generations.

This is Chapter 4 of a four-part series regarding coal and water in the Southwest. To return to Chapter 1, please click HERE.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Navajo Generating Station Spews Nitrous Oxide (Laughing Gas) into the Air

The Elephant Feet - A pair of stone spires on U.S. Highway 160, south of Cow Springs, Arizona - Click for larger image (

As Navajo Generating Station Spews Nitrous Oxide (Laughing Gas) into the Air, Downwind There isn't a Chuckle

The Navajo Generating Station (NGS), near Page, Arizona provides the electrical energy necessary to operate the Central Arizona Project (CAP). Thus, coal-fired power produced by NGS in the Upper Colorado River Basin enables Arizona’s CAP water delivery system to operate in the Lower Colorado River Basin.

As a byproduct of burning eight-million tons of Black Mesa coal each year, NGS currently sells about 500,000 tons of flyash to concrete block manufacturers. Land filled on site is an undocumented volume of scrubber byproducts, including bottom ash and gypsum. The remaining combustion gasses and solids enter into the atmosphere via three 775 ft. tall flue gas stacks.

At the Junction of U.S. 160 and Arizona 564 once stood the Peabody Coal Company's "Black Mesa Complex" informational signage - Click for larger image ( to EPA spokesperson Rusty Harris-Bishop, the Navajo Generating Station is one of the largest sources of nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions in the country. When processed for medical purposes, nitrous oxide becomes the benign sounding anesthetic, “laughing gas”. When drag racers inject N2O into internal combustion engines, it acts as an oxidant, offering additional power and speed.

After departing the flue gas stacks of coal-fired plants like NGS, no one knows the effects of N2O on lifeforms downwind. With an atmospheric lifespan of 120-years, the environmental effects of N2O may last longer than any human lifespan. One wag asked, "Are the clouds of laughing gas emanating from NGS part of a scheme designed to keep nearby Navajo and Hopi tribes pacified?"

If the Bashar Assad regime in Syria were to conduct widespread dispersal of nitrous oxide (N2O) gas among the people of Syria, would the U.S. object, calling it a war crime? Such is currently the lot of anyone living in the air shed downwind of NGS or other coal-fired plants within the Four Corners country. If the nitrous oxide emissions dissipate quickly, over a wide area, war crime questions may remain moot. Only with chemical-gas testing on the reservation shall we understand the effects of long-term exposure to N2O and other emitted gasses. Unless changed, this complex set of environmental hazards will operate as usual. New cases of Black Lung Disease will surely continue among current and former Black Mesa miners.

Spokesmodel Carrie McCoy enjoys late sun at a hazy Grand Canyon in 2009 - Click for larger image ( studies found that NGS alone caused between two and seven percent of airborne winter haze downwind at the Grand Canyon. Not only does NGS siphon vast amounts of water from Lake Powell, its heat-island effect increases evaporation of the remaining lake water. Heat and greenhouse gasses emitted from the NGS stacks drive cool air and moisture away from the area. As part of an environmental death spiral, NGS directly robs CAP of what it needs most, which is an adequate water supply downstream.

Hydrologists, utilities spokespeople and federal regulators offer only lip service regarding interdependency between the Upper and Lower Colorado River Basins. Collectively, they have yet to admit that diminished input and too many outputs may soon drain the greater Colorado River watershed. Only when officials admit that there is a collective shortage shall they find better uses for our resources, including earth, water and fire.

In 1965, prior to the building of Navajo Generating Station, the author Jim McGillis stands on a promontory above the Grand Canyon and Colorado River - Click for larger image ( 2009, I drove past the Peabody Coal Company Access Road on U.S. Highway 160. There, a backlit sign featured the words, “Peabody Western Coal Company” and “Black Mesa Complex”. In recent years, plant owners at nearby Navajo Generation Station (NGS) and the Navajo Nation gave Peabody Energy a twenty-five year lease extension. That agreement yoked the Navajo and Hopi Nations to an environmentally destructive course. When some Navajo and Hopi threatened to shut down the Black Mesa Complex, Peabody Energy "doubled down", raising their annual royalty fee for Black Mesa coal from $34.4 Million to $42 million. Over Hopi Nation objections, the twenty-two percent increase in royalties was enough to secure Navajo Nation agreement.

No one knows how much profit Peabody Energy will reap from their continued strip mining of Black Mesa, but it will be orders of magnitude larger than any royalty fees paid. Succumbing to what some call a meager financial incentive, the Navajo Nation traded the health of its people for the benefits of Old Energy. In their marketing campaign, Peabody and the Navajo Nation raised the prospect of continued employment for the Navajo and Hopi workers. Skeptics say that strip-mine-jobs cause more health and environmental harm than any economic benefit that they may provide.

As the saying goes, “Those who ignore history are destined to repeat it”. In post-1984 America, companies that hide their history shall gain little benefit from their deceit. Since 2009, Peabody Energy has removed all references to “Peabody Western Coal Company” and “Black Mesa Complex” from their corporate communications. In line with their expunging of the historical record, Peabody Energy also removed all “Black Mesa Complex” informational signage from U.S. Highway 160. Under their current marketing scheme, Peabody Energy applies the innocuous moniker, “Kayenta Mine” to the largest strip mine in the West.

Peabody Western Coal Company signage, which formerly stood at the intersection of US-160 and Navajo Route 41, which is the Peabody Coal Black Mesa access road - Click for larger image ( of sight and out of mind is where Peabody Energy wants their dirty little secret to lie. Luckily, for the company, destruction caused by their operation lies unseen behind the ridge of Black Mesa. Only with satellite photography can we see the extent environmental destruction occurring at Black Mesa. Despite Peabody Energy’s efforts to hide their mining operations, gray trails of effluvium lead down the canyons from the area. At the lower end of newly deepened gulches, that “gray matter” turns and runs north toward Kayenta. Even if the mines were to close today, the deep scars on Black Mesa would take several geological epochs to heal.

In a community minded effort, NGS and its owner, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) are now extending electrical power to sixty-two homes in the area surrounding LeChee, Arizona. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population at LeChee is ninety-eight percent Native American. Located less than two miles from NGS, many of LeChee's residents work either at the plant or as service workers in nearby Page, Arizona. With a 2010 population of 1,443, LeChee had lost 163 residents over the previous decade. How many of them departed because of chronic respiratory diseases, no one knows. Prior to electrification, how many of the LeChee homes burned coal for heat?

This is Chapter 3 of a four-part series regarding coal and water in the Southwest. To read Chapter 4, please click HERE.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Water & Power - Arizona Faces a New Energy Reality

Even in natural light, the carcinogens present in coal smoke are easy to see - Click for larger image (

As Colorado River Water Vaporizes in the Desert, Arizona Faces a New Energy Reality

Recently, the Navajo and Hopi Nations signed a controversial lease with the Arizona public utility, Salt River Project (SRP). Under that agreement, and for the benefit of SRP, the Navajo Generating Station (NGS) near Page, Arizona will operate until 2044. The primary function of NGS is to provide electrical energy to SRP’s Central Arizona Project (CAP). Using that power, SRP lifts 1.5 million acre-feet of water per annum from Lake Havasu. After pumping it over the Buckskin Mountains, CAP alternately siphons, pumps and uses gravity to transport the water east, to Pima, Pinal and Maricopa Counties.

Like The Colonel's water truck in the desert, Arizona's CAP will keep delivering until the source runs dry - Click for larger image ( crossing Arizona’s Tonopah Desert, the aqueduct consists of a large, evaporation-trench. From Tempe to Tucson, the water remaining after a scorching trip across the desert might become mist at an outdoor restaurant. Burning eight million tons of Black Mesa coal each year, NGS generates more than enough power to pump a continual flood of Colorado River water across the Arizona desert.

In the event of a power shortage or a shortage of Colorado River water, CAP could economize by curtailing deliveries to both agriculture and its groundwater recharge stations. If CAP water deliveries were to fall below current per capita consumption, either new water connections would halt or consumers would face rationing and shortages. With that, Arizona’s fifty-year construction and population boom would end. With its economy reliant on new residential development and construction, Arizona's ongoing boom could quickly turn to bust.

Aerial view of the Grand Canyon, which is the source for Arizona's Central Arizona Project (CAP) water delivery system - Click for larger image ( CAP water deliveries were to diminish significantly, the Maricopa County might face its second Great Disappearance in less than a millennium. In 899 CE, the Hohokam Indians experienced and then recovered from a flood that devastated their extensive water storage and delivery systems. In the late fourteenth century, major flooding again occurred in the Valley of the Sun. This time, recovery flagged. By 1450 CE, between 24,000 and 50,000 Hohokam Indians had disappeared from the archeological record.

Currently, the Phoenix-Tucson metropolis is living on borrowed time and borrowed water. By “borrowed time”, I mean that California, Arizona and Nevada currently withdraw Colorado River water faster than the watershed upstream can replenish it. By “borrowed water”, I mean that as shortages loom, Arizona’s CAP water rights are subordinate to those of California. Arizona’s current tourism motto is “Discover the Arizona Less Traveled”. In the years ahead, the less traveled part of Arizona may well include Pima, Pinal and Maricopa Counties.

Although more energy efficient than their predecessors, the shear ubiquity of suburban homes in Arizona creates a hardened demand for water - Click for larger image ( mountains and desert, CAP’s borrowed water travels to an artificial oasis with a population of five million. Arizona's twenty-year development plans are a pipe dream. They call for a future Southern Arizona population of up to ten million. Long before that, the big pipe that is CAP may be running near empty. One does not need to be a climate scientist to see that sustained pumping from a declining Colorado River is not a viable long-term solution. In fact, supplying sufficient water to current users may yet prove unsustainable.

In order to transport their allotment of Colorado River water across the desert, Arizona dumps its environmental responsibilities on the Navajo Nation. From mining, processing, transport and burning of Black Mesa coal, the Navajo and Hopi Nations subsidize profligate water use in Phoenix and Tucson. When it came to producing additional power closer to home, no one in Phoenix wanted a coal-fired power station upwind. Instead, at its Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station (PVNGS), SRP utilized a “clean power source”. Standing in the Tonopah Desert, fifty miles west of Phoenix, the massive complex comprises the largest nuclear power plant in the nation. Tonopah derives from the word Tú Nohwá, meaning "Hot Water under a Bush". In fact, PVNGS is the only major nuclear power plant in the world not situated adjacent to a major body of water.

During a thunderstorm in the Tonopah Desert, rainbows, not lightning strike a diesel rig on Interstate I-10, west of Phoenix - Click for larger image ( by a consortium of utilities stretching from El Paso to Los Angeles, PVNGS’s biggest advantage is that it does not burn coal. Since its initial construction in the 1970s, PVNGS has been a magnate for nearby natural-gas-fired “peaker plants”. Each of those natural gas plants consumes cooling water, emits hydrocarbons and heat into the atmosphere. Both the Black Mesa Complex (strip-mine) to the north and PVNGS have a public relations advantage. Located in remote locations, both complexes are out of sight and out of mind. Few in Arizona realize that their lifesaving air conditioning depends on a 3,900 megawatt power plant called "Hot Water under a Bush".

Other than the inherent fragility of 1970’s nuclear power plant design, the main weakness of PVNGS is its cooling loops. As the sole source for their cooling water, all of the Tonopah power plants rely on treated effluent water from Phoenix and other cities. Reduced future delivery of Colorado River water will force conservation on Phoenix. As residents curtail non-essential water usage, demand for CAP water will harden at a lower volume. Inevitably, as Phoenix consumes less fresh water, sewage plant effluent will decrease as well. I do not know how much treated water Phoenix currently has to spare, but that would be an interesting statistic.

Arizona's massive Palo Verde Nuclear Power Station relies on treated Phoenix sewage effluent for cooling - Click for larger image ( currently recharged with excess CAP water, the Tonopah Aquifer is finite. If Phoenix metropolitan sewage plants currently supply most of their outflow to Tonopah, any decrease in effluent could set off an unpleasant chain reaction. If treated effluent flow decreased, the power plants at Tonopah would resort to pumping from their local aquifers. To see the negative ramifications of such an act, one needs to look no further than to the depleted aquifers of Black Mesa, to the north. Not if, but when the Tonopah aquifers run dry, power production would decrease to whatever diminished level the sewage plants upstream could support.

Pumping of groundwater at Tonopah will only delay the day of reckoning. Even today, sixty percent of Arizona's population relies on groundwater for its domestic water needs. Thus, if history is an indicator, Arizona will soon tap its desert aquifers. When the aquifers make their final retreat, CAP customers will discover a new reality. With insufficient cooling water available at Tonopah, both nuclear and gas-fired generating stations will curtail output. Unless some of CAP's then diminished supply of Colorado River water is diverted directly to the power plants, a downward spiral of SRP power production will ensue.

When gas was 34.9 cents per gallon, coffee at this ghost gas station in the desert was only 25 cents - Click for larger image ( decrease in water or power deliveries would strain the economy and ultimately, the population of Southern Arizona. In subsequent years, the price of both water and power could exceed many Arizonian’s ability to pay. Unable to revert to its former ranching, mining and semi-rural economy, the outlying suburbs of Maricopa, Pinal and Pima Counties would be the first to go. Old copies of Arizona Highways Magazine might look new again. Ghost towns, like Casa Grande, Arizona could feature both Hohokam ruins and abandoned regional shopping centers, which have gone to seed. Once again, a complete way of life could vanish from the Valley of the Sun.

This is Chapter 2 of a four-part series about coal and water in the Southwest. Whether in power plants or homes, the burning of Navajo Reservation, Black-Mesa-Coal degrades lasting environmental and health effects created by the burning of Black Mesa coal in both power plants and homes on the Navajo Reservation, Read Chapter 3.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

At Page, AZ, the Navajo Generating Station, Burns Navajo Nation - Black Mesa Coal

From U.S. Highway 160 South, Black Mesa looms into view - Click for larger image (

Near Page, Arizona, the Navajo Generating Station, Burns Navajo Nation - Black Mesa Coal

The trip from Kayenta, Arizona to Tuba City on U.S. Highway 160 covers about seventy-five miles. Thirty miles south of Kayenta, is the Black Mesa crossroads. From there, Arizona Highway 542 heads west toward Navajo National Monument, nine miles away. Extending east from the crossroads is Peabody Coal Company Access Road, also known as Indian Route 41.

From U.S. Highway 160, the "Peabody Coal Company Access Road, also known as Indian Route 41 climbs the side of Black Mesa - Click for larger image (

Peabody Energy is the largest private sector coal company in the world. Coal from Peabody mines accounts for almost ten percent of U.S. electrical energy production and two percent of worldwide electrical energy production. Although located wholly on tribal lands at Black Mesa, Peabody Energy has disingenuously renamed the largest strip mine in the Southwest as “The Kayenta Mine”. Peabody has a history of trying to distance itself from its own businesses. Someone in the marketing department must have decided that “Kayenta Mine” sounded better than “Black Mesa Mine”.

During the past decade, Southern California Edison closed and then demolished its Mohave Generating Station (MOGS) in Laughlin, Nevada. From The Peabody Energy coal conveyor and storage silos near Black Mesa, Arizona - Click for larger image ( inception in 1971 until its closure in 2005, Peabody Energy loaded up to six hundred tons per hour of Black Mesa Coal into a slurry pipe destined for MOGS, two hundred seventy-five miles away. If run continuously, the pipeline had a capacity of over five million tons of coal per annum. With four 8-million-gallon storage tanks onsite, dewatering the coal and recycling the vast amounts of water used in transport were high priorities. What the Black Mesa aquifer lost, MOGS gained. At the plant, MOGS recycled and reused the slurry water in their cooling loops, thus achieving zero water discharge from the plant.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and the Office of Surface Mining, US Geological Survey (USGS) confirmed that Peabody Energy compromised the viability of the Black Mesa aquifer. “Since Peabody began using N-Aquifer water for its coal slurry operation; pumping an average of 4,000 acre feet, more than 1.3 billion gallons of water, each year; water levels have decreased by more than 100-feet in some wells and discharge has slackened more than fifty percent in the majority of monitored springs.” (Miller).

The Black Mesa & Lake Powell electric railroad moves coal form Black Mesa to the Navajo Generating Station near Page, Arizona - Click for larger image (

Near the intersection of U.S. Highway 160 and Arizona Highway 542, stands the architecturally imposing Black Mesa Coal Conveyor Belt and its storage silos. This is also the northern terminus loop of the Black Mesa & Lake Powell Railroad. The Navajo Generation Station (NGS) near Page, Arizona, owns the railroad and its attendant facilities. Between Kayenta and Tuba City, the loading facilities at Black Mesa Junction are the largest structures visible along the highway. From that northern terminus, dedicated coal trains travel south along the length of the both the Kletha and Red Lake Valleys.

Just south of Cow Springs Lake, the tracks leave the highway, bending northwest. In a series of sinuous arcs, the tracks then snake around buttes and mesas. At NGS, there is a second terminus loop, allowing the coal trains to dump their hoppers almost without stopping. Departing the NGS loop, the one-way trip back to Black Mesa Junction is about seventy-five miles.

The Navajo Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant near Page, Arizona - Click for larger image ( in the desert, some things are too big to hide, and NGS is one of those things. From Highway 160, the Navajo Generating Station (NGS) is invisible, hidden behind a series of low mesas. Once again, out-of-sight makes for out-of-mind. In order to visit NGS, the average tourist would have to plan a special trip on Arizona Highway 98. Not seeking to become a tourist attraction, the remoteness of NGS from commercial and tourist routes is exactly how the utility likes it. Their goal is to keep a 2,250-megawatt, coal-burning power plant mostly off the consciousness of the American public.

Despite improvements over the years, contemporary coal-fired power plants are thermally and environmentally inefficient. In order to operate its plant and equipment, NGS consumes onsite fully seven percent of its own generated power. Pumping of water uphill from Lake Powell accounts for a large portion of onsite energy consumption. Electric train operation between Black Mesa and NGS is another net drain on transmitted power. Additional electrical power goes to run the Peabody Black Mesa Complex, including its many miles of coal conveyor belt. When all internal and infrastructure power consumption is taken in to account, NGS may well consume for more than ten percent of its gross electrical output.

In 1965, a seemingly inexhaustible supply of Colorado River water helped to fill Lake Powell - Click for larger image (

The generating station draws about 26,000 acre-feet (32,000,000 m3) of water per year from Lake Powell. Under average conditions, it takes about 1/2 gallon (1.9L) per kWh of electrical output. Although most of the water usage at NGS goes to scrubbing and cooling, the remainder is stored in large adjacent ponds. Only through evaporation, can the ponds cool sufficiently to allow reentry of their water into the cooling loops. In the end, it is easier to waste the water onsite than to recycle it. With that in mind, systems are set to maximize evaporation and to reduce retention on site. Once retained water reaches a high enough temperature, it loses much of its cooling capacity. To ameliorate the environmental effects of its flue gas emissions, NGS uses massive amounts of cold, Lake Powell water. From June to August 2013, Lake Powell went from 3601 ft. elevation to 3590 ft. or a drop of eleven feet.

The Glen Canyon Dam, as seen from Lake Powell in 1965 - Click for larger image ( that rate, Lake Powell will soon be much smaller and warmer. As the relict water in the depths disappears into the siphons connected to NGS, the ambient temperature of remaining lake water will rise. As the water warms, it will create inefficiency within the cooling system and scrubbers at NGS. The warmer that Lake Powell becomes, the more water NGS will have to pump in order to keep its coal fires burning at current rates.

Black Mesa and the Navajo Generating Station are two of the critical links within the water and power systems in the Upper and Lower Colorado Basins. Situated in the upper Colorado Basin, NGS transmits power to pump water across the deserts of the Lower Colorado Basin. This is Chapter 1 of a four-part series regarding coal and water in the Southwest. In Chapter 2, learn the consequences of too much power chasing too little water across the landscape of the Southwest.