Water Equity Clearinghouse

Black Mesa Water Coalition

Navajo Nation

The Black Mesa Water Coalition (BMWC) is a nonprofit organization formed in 2001 by a group of inter-tribal youth dedicated to addressing issues of water depletion, natural resource management, and public health within Navajo and Hopi communities. BMWC has a vision of building sustainable and healthy communities through empowering young people, installing sustainable energy infrastructure, activism around extractive industry infrastructure, and food sovereignty projects.

BMWC has also successfully utilized legal avenues to regulate polluting industries or shut down their operations on tribal land. By forming partnerships throughout the entire US, BMWC extends its reach beyond the Navajo and Hopi communities.

Efforts to Advance Water Equity

BMWC has three main initiatives: replace coal power with renewable energy, ensure a stable and resilient green economy, and develop leaders and a larger movement. The people from the Navajo and Hopi communities see the very real and detrimental impact that coal mining has on water resources and the organisms and systems that depend on those resources; as well as being part of an economy that excludes indigenous people from the middle class and a better quality of life.

BMWC has played an integral role in bringing together communities from both the Navajo and Hopi nations to talk about issues of environmental injustice in drinking water. These connections were integral to the blocking of the Little Colorado River Water Settlement Agreement and Act of 2012, which would have continued to allow the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station in Page, Arizona to continue taking water from the river.

BMWC is involved in many initiatives that support equitable and sustainable economic development. In July 2009, the organization created the Navajo Green Economy Fund and Commission within the structure of the Navajo Nation tribal government—the first legislation of its kind in any tribal government. The commission would oversee the distribution of federal, state, and private funds to green job initiatives. Community members can also apply for funding towards “green” projects that grow and revitalize other aspects of the economy, such as art and agriculture.

In addition, a revolving fund created by the California Public Utilities Commission in February 2013 uses revenues from the sale of sulfur dioxide allowances from the shut-down of Mohave Generating Station to pay development deposits for renewable energy projects that benefit the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation.

To further strengthen a local, green economy, the BMWC has established a Restorative Economy Program that will restore the environment, improve human health, and create a development path that incorporates traditional practices into local economic development. The Food Sovereignty Project consists of a five-acre community farm that experiments with traditional and sustainable techniques of dry land farming. The project looks to the natural watershed boundaries to strategically choose field locations and the natural landscape to build various water catchment systems like berms, canals, and spillways.

The BMWC recognizes the importance of youth development, and thus created the Southwest Indigenous Leadership Institute, which ran for two years. Recently, the focus has shifted to training youth by taking on many interns, apprentices, and volunteers who work outside regenerating the land as well as in the office. The BMWC hopes to continue building strategic national and international alliances that will build power for the indigenous peoples’ rights movement.

This project shows how communities can develop alternatives to industrial practices that threaten water sources, and simultaneously create sustainable economic opportunities.