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“Report Finds Mine Could Harm Sacred Lake”

by Ben Neary, Santa Fe New Mexican

This is an article published in the Santa Fe New Mexican, February 13, 2003 describing Zuni efforts to preserve their sacred Salt Lake for religious purposes.

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Zuni Pueblo, ca. 1900“Zuni Pueblo, ca. 1900,” Frederick Maude (Photographer)

An Arizona power company’s plan to pump groundwater for a huge coal mine in western New Mexico could harm a lake sacred to Zuni Pueblo, a new hydrology report commissioned by the pueblo says.

For years, Zuni Pueblo has opposed plans by the Salt River Project, an Arizona utility company, to develop the proposed 18,000 acre Fence Lake Mine on the border of Catron and Cibola counties.

Zuni Governor Arlen P. Quetawki Sr. wrote to officials at the US Department of the Interior last week stating the new report by the pueblo’s hydrology consultant, Glorieta Geoscience of Santa Fe, shows pumping water from the Atarque Aquifer at the mine site could harm the lake.

The report shows the federal government should prohibit SRP from pumping water from the aquifer, Quetawki told the federal officials.

The report states that the Atarque Aquifer is continuous between the mine site and the lake.

“The Atarque is one of several important sources of water and salts to the Zuni Salt Lake,” the report notes.

“Plans call for mining to continue at the site for 40 years.”

Salt River Project proposes to pump 85 gallons of water a minute from the ground at the mine site. Most of the water would be used for dust suppression. Plans call for mining to continue at the site for 40 years.

In response to Zuni’s past demands for hydrology tests, the government last year blocked SRP from using the Dakota Aquifer, the other main aquifer in the area.

If the federal government grants the pueblo’s request to block SRP from pumping from the Atarque aquifer, it could be fatal to the mine project.

An attempt to reach Nedra Darling, a spokeswoman for the US Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, DC, for comment was unsuccessful Wednesday.

The mine site is about 10 miles north of Zuni Salt Lake, an area sacred to the Zunis and other Indians in the Southwest. Brine flows from the ground at the lake, and Indians use the salt in religious ceremonies.

Plans call for SRP to build a rail line to carry coal from the mine to a power plant in St. John’s, Arizona, just across the state line.

Robert L. Barnard, the mine-project manager for SRP in Scottsdale, Arizona, said Wednesday that the company hasn't yet reviewed the pueblo’s new hydrology report. He said none of the company’s studies would agree with any conclusion that pumping water from the Atarque Aquifer would harm the Salt Lake.

“We're moving right along for construction starting this summer and for coal to be delivered in 2005,” Barnard said.