Navajo Nation President Begaye to Decide on Opening Canals

Paul Long Jr with the Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources tops of a 55-gallon barrel with non-potable water Thursday in Shiprock, N.M. Residents living along the San Juan River who’ve been affected by the Aug. 5 toxic water spill don’t have access to the river since the Navajo tribal government shut down access to it until further notice. (Navajo Times photo – Donovan Quintero)

Paul Long Jr with the Navajo Nation Department of Water Resources tops of a 55-gallon barrel with non-potable water Thursday in Shiprock, N.M. Residents living along the San Juan River who’ve been affected by the Aug. 5 toxic water spill don’t have access to the river since the Navajo tribal government shut down access to it until further notice. (Navajo Times photo – Donovan Quintero)

SHIPROCK, NEW MEXICO – Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye Friday morning was tracing the route of the August 5 Gold King Mine waste spill with members of the Navajo Nation Council and a medicine man, blessing the rivers and trying to decide whether to open the San Juan River to irrigation.

An emotional seven-and-one-half-hour meeting with farmers in Shiprock Thursday night had provided little guidance. While most of the 35 or so people who spoke begged him to keep the river closed, a subsequent anonymous paper ballot favored opening it.

The canal system, however, is being flushed Friday — an eight-hour process that cleans the silt out in case Begaye decides to open the system.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, left, types into his laptop what is said at an open forum on the river contamination at the Phik Thomas Performing Arts Center Thursday night in Shiprock, N.M. (Times photo – Donovan Quintero)

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye, left, types into his laptop what is said at an open forum on the river contamination.  (Navajo Times photo – Donovan Quintero)

The U.S. EPA, which has maintained the river is back to pre-spill levels of heavy metals, has announced it will stop delivering replacement water to Navajo farmers Friday, but Begaye said the tribe and the BIA will continue to try to supply water to all who need it until the canals are open.

The Navajo Nation EPA also announced Thursday their independent test results indicated the river is safe for irrigation — though not yet approved for livestock watering. But the vast majority of the farmers who spoke were unconvinced.
“I don’t want my children to get sterile!” cried one woman.

“Nobody wants to buy our corn!” said another farmer.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by the Navajo Times. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

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