Horses near Cottonwood, Arizona, face death by thirst as the drought continues, 20 June 2013. After eight straight years of drought, desperate horses have begun wading into deadly mud puddles to quench their thirst. Photo: Larissa Jimmy / Navajo Times5 July 2013 (ICTMN) – The horses, desperate for water, had come to drink from a pool of rainwater that had run off a hill and flooded land on the Navajo reservation.

What they got was a mud bath that turned deadly as they became trapped in the bentonite clay of the Chinle Formation, which becomes quicksand as the water trapped in it starts evaporating, the Navajo Times reported on 20 June 2013. Seventeen horses died this way, the stench of their decomposing carcasses thick in the air.

“A few of them had legs and arms buried beneath the clay as if they were emerging from the ground,” the Navajo Times said. “One horse almost had its face completely submerged in the mud.”

Not far away lay another decomposing horse, a filly. The entire scene was cordoned off with barbed wire by the Cottonwood/Tselani Chapter, with supplies provided by the Bureau of Indian Affairs office, the Navajo Times said.

Horses across the Navajo Nation are in dire straits, fighting one another to get at small quantities of water. On top of that, many of the horses are malnourished, their ribs sticking out.

The drought that has gripped the Nation for several years is taking a toll so deep that President Ben Shelly declared a state of emergency on July 2.

“We need to help our people right now. We have wells that are dry. We have livestock that are thirsty and crops that are in dire need of water,” said Shelly in a statement leading up to the declaration. “Declaring this emergency will release emergency funding for chapters to take care of needs they see in their communities.”

Western Agency precipitation is about 65 percent less than what it normally is, the Navajo statement said, with Fort Defiance Agency 63 percent below normal. Northern and Eastern Agency are 55 percent under, and Chinle Agency is 30 percent below, the Navajo said. Moreover, the Navajo statement said, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting higher-than-normal temperatures to continue through the summer, along with the continued lower participation.

“We are going to do everything we can to ensure that we deal with drought conditions that are consistent with the ramifications of the Navajo government,” Shelly said. “Also, declaring an emergency will allow us to appeal to President Obama for funding.” [more]

Horses Dying as Navajo Nation Declares Drought Emergency


A horse is found near Cottonwood, Arizona, with its face and lower body stuck in clay mud, 20 June 2013. After eight straight years of drought, desperate horses have begun wading into deadly mud puddles to quench their thirst. Photo: Larissa Jimmy / Navajo TimesBy Larissa L. Jimmy
20 June 2013

CHINLE, Arizona (Navajo Times) – The water hole at Lichii naazniil near Cottonwood, Ariz. has dried up.

A rotten smell of dead carcasses linger in the air. The rancid smell came from the 17 dead horses in various stages of decomposition around the crater of dried mud. A few of them had legs and arms buried beneath the clay as if they were emerging from the ground. One horse almost had its face completely submerged in the mud.

A decomposing filly lay outside the horrific scene, which is now barricaded off with barbed-wire fencing that was put up last week by the Cottonwood/Tselani Chapter; supplies were provided by the BIA office out of Chinle.

Near the north side of the fence is an unbranded female bay horse that had faltered and bloated. Both Eugene Tso, who works as a Chinle Chapter Grazing Official out of the BIA Division of Natural Resources, and Steven Tsosie, who works as a Cottonwood Chapter Grazing Official, say that they remember the bay horse wobbling around the week before.

The horses came to drink the water that collected in what Eugene calls a "water spreader" - a pool of storm-water that runs-off a hill and floods a large portion of land, typically used to irrigate a pasture.

Desperate for a drink, the animals waded in … but they never got out. The bentonite clay of the Chinle Formation turns to deadly quicksand when a pool starts to dry. The horses discovered that too late.

It's not only the livestock that have suffered in this ongoing drought. The normally amiable communities of Chinle and Cottonwood have begun a conflict over water usage.

"People in Cottonwood take water from this area," said Sharon Yazzie, who waters her cattle at a windmill-filled tank near here.

Bitchinii is one of first of the three stops that Tso and Tsosie respond to. This windmill near Chinle has become overrun by livestock. According to a report from the Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources, the drought status for the month of May was "severe". The locals might say that's putting it mildly.

When two families pull up and begin separating their herd from the rest, they recognize both Tso and Tsosie and begin updating them about the people who have been taking water from their community windmill.

"They bring big jugs and big barrels," said Kimberly Billy, adding that two weeks ago there was a colt that was stomped to death by other horses trying to get to the water.

With the stored water slowly depleting due to the lack of precipitation, some livestock owners had taken it upon themselves to try to help the other livestock suffering from water deprivation.

Yazzie, who hauls her own water in her truck at least once a day for her cattle, says that she tries to give the livestock water as well, if there is any left over. […]

Is there any relief in sight?

It all depends on what happens this month, said Robert Kirk, principal hydrologist with the Navajo Nation Department of Emergency Management. The coming monsoon season may bring some relief, but so far it doesn't look good.

Although only a half-inch of precipitation was recorded in the Chinle area in April, 2013 is not the driest year in recent memory. That honor would have to go 2004, when virtually no spring precipitation was recorded.

But dry years build on each other, Kirk said.

"We've been in a drought for eight years," he said. [more]

Drought takes heavy toll on roaming horses

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