Anthropology and Environment Society
Oral Presentation Session
Two sources of energy flows shape the landscape of the Navajo Nation: rivers and power plants. Moreover, these two energy flows are codependent: intensive extraction of energy minerals depends upon water resources for processing. And at the same time, energy extraction (uranium, coal, oil) often contaminates the very fluvial flows on which it depends. The refrain, “Water is Life,” emerged in the Navajo Nation more than two decades ago, in response to Peabody Coal Company’s use of pristine water from the Coconino Aquifer to move crushed coal through a slurry line off reservation, and has re-emerged as the Colorado Plateau faces unprecedented aridity and desertification due to climate change, putting its lifeline, the Colorado River, into a state of ecological crisis. As the Navajo Nation prepares to decommission aging energy infrastructure like the Navajo Generating Station (NGS) coal plant, millions of acre feet of river water used by the plant will become “available” again. This upcoming closure is indeed a watershed moment not only due to contested water rights between riverine tribes and states in the desert Southwest, but because it urges a reconsideration of extractive energies’ dependency on scarce water sources in a time of climate change. This paper considers the significance of the December 2019 closure of the NGS with “water as an analytic” (J. Barker, 2018) for these entwined energy flows, asking how water indexes life and non-life and how human relations with riparian environments are impacted by the imminent collapse of energy infrastructure.