Hydrologic analyses in support of the Navajo Generating Station–Kayenta Mine Complex environmental impact statement

Open-File Report 2016-1088
By: , and 



The U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, Lower Colorado Region (Reclamation) is preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Navajo Generating Station-Kayenta Mine Complex Project (NGS-KMC Project). The proposed project involves various Federal approvals that would facilitate continued operation of the Navajo Generating Station (NGS) from December 23, 2019 through 2044, and continued operation of the Kayenta Mine and support facilities (collectively called the Kayenta Mine Complex, or KMC) to supply coal to the NGS for this operational period. The EIS will consider several project alternatives that are likely to produce different effects on the Navajo (N) aquifer; the N aquifer is the principal water resource in the Black Mesa area used by the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, and Peabody Western Coal Company (PWCC).

The N aquifer is composed of three hydraulically connected formations—the Navajo Sandstone, the Kayenta Formation, and the Lukachukai Member of the Wingate Sandstone—that function as a single aquifer. The N aquifer is confined under most of Black Mesa, and the overlying stratigraphy limits recharge to this part of the aquifer. The N aquifer is unconfined in areas surrounding Black Mesa, and most recharge occurs where the Navajo Sandstone is exposed in the area near Shonto, Arizona. Overlying the N aquifer is the D aquifer, which includes the Dakota Sandstone, Morrison Formation, Entrada Sandstone, and Carmel Formation. The aquifer is named for the Dakota Sandstone, which is the primary water-bearing unit.

The NGS is located near Page, Arizona on the Navajo Nation. The KMC, which delivers coal to NGS by way of a dedicated electric railroad, is located approximately 83 miles southeast of NGS (about 125 miles northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona). The Kayenta Mine permit area is located on about 44,073 acres of land leased within the boundaries of the Hopi and Navajo Indian Reservations. KMC has been conducting mining and reclamation operations within the Kayenta Mine permit boundary since 1973.

The KMC part of the proposed project requires approval by the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) of a significant revision of the mine’s permit to operate in accordance with the Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act (Public Law 95-87, 91 Stat. 445 [30 U.S.C. 1201 et seq.]). The revision will identify coal resource areas that may be used to continue extracting coal at the present rate of approximately 8.2 million tons per year. The Kayenta Mine Complex uses water pumped from the D and N aquifers beneath PWCC’s leasehold to support mining and reclamation activities. Prior to 2006, water from the PWCC well field also was used to transport coal by way of a coal-slurry pipeline to the now-closed Mohave Generating Station. Water usage at the leasehold was approximately 4,100 acre-feet per year (acre-ft/yr) during the period the pipeline was in use, and declined to an average 1,255 acre-ft/yr from 2006 to 2011. The Probable Hydrologic Consequences (PHC) section of the mining and reclamation permit must be modified to project the consequences of extended water use by the mine for the duration of the KMC part of the project, including a post-mining reclamation period.

Since 1971, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has conducted the Black Mesa Monitoring Program, which consists of monitoring water levels and water quality in the N aquifer, compiling information on water use by PWCC and tribal communities, maintaining several stream-gaging stations, measuring discharge at selected springs, conducting special studies, and reporting findings. These data are useful in evaluating the effects on the N aquifer from PWCC and community pumping, and the effects of variable precipitation.

The EIS will assess the impacts of continued pumping on the N aquifer, including changes in storage, water quality, and effects on spring and baseflow discharge, by proposed mining through 2044, and during the reclamation process to 2057.

Several groundwater models exist for the area and Reclamation concluded it would conduct a peer review of the groundwater flow model that will be used to assess the direct, reasonably foreseeable indirect, and cumulative effects of future groundwater withdrawals on the D and N aquifers in the Black Mesa area. Reclamation made this determination because of the level of controversy around the effects of continued water use and the comments received from the 2014 draft EIS scoping meetings. Reclamation requested assistance from the USGS in evaluating existing groundwater flow models of the Black Mesa Basin that can be used to predict the effects of different project alternatives on the D and N aquifers.

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Inventory of Discharge Locations in D and N Aquifers
  • Evaluation of Available Groundwater Models for the N and D Aquifers in the Study Area
  • Evaluation of the Technical Design and Calibration of Model Most Appropriate for use by the EIS Team
  • Evaluation of Appropriate Post-Pumping Period for Analyses of Long-Term Aquifer Effects 
  • Summary and Conclusions
  • References Cited
  • Appendix. U.S. Geological Survey Black Mesa Monitoring Reports
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Hydrologic analyses in support of the Navajo Generating Station–Kayenta Mine Complex environmental impact statement
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2016-1088
DOI 10.3133/ofr20161088
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Arizona Water Science Center
Description vi, 23 p.
Country United States
State Arizona
Other Geospatial Black Mesa
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details